My blog slowed down to a frightening deathly pace these past few months. I’ve got good cred though for being so ghostly. Along with regular assignments, that help put food on the barbeque, my main focus has been getting SPARROW ready to send. This novel has been through a lot: dropped a character; tossed the first several pages and completely changed the beginning; changed the title three times; found a focus so I could know how to relate to agents and publishers what this books is about; did a lot of line editing; decreased the word count from 121,000 to 110,000; found someone to put melodies to the lyrics of Robin’s songs. In the process I’ve cried, laughed, wept, chuckled, sobbed, and giggled. I’ve also learned the difference of all those emotive actions. It’s part of what writing is about, isn’t it?
I’ve attended some wonderful workshops over the past year and am so grateful for suggestions, recommendations, corrections, and support I’ve received. I feel like I took my newborn baby from birth to high school and she learned gobs in the process. My life was also enhanced this past couple years, thanks to some very good self help books and my association with Arbonne, a nutrition and skin care line wrapped up in a personal growth program.
This is a sneak peek for anyone who loves good fiction. I’ve included the first chapter of SPARROW in my blog and excited for comments, as well as anyone who would like to volunteer to read the entire manuscript and answer some questions. It’s a huge commitment, I know, but my appreciation could quite possibly put your name in print!
Robin’s family is completely unsupportive of her goals in life; as a matter of fact, they think she’s delusional. All she really wants is a college degree and to be a songwriter, a not too lofty aspiration but it’s not going to happen in her small Northwest town. After a nasty fight with her mother, Robin packs a small bag, her guitar and hitchhikes to Los Angeles, in search of the ‘60’s California Canyon music she listens to every day in the sanctity of her bedroom. She finds musicians but they aren’t the ones she’s looking for, which detours her on a path of self discovery, love, parenthood and eventually success. Rich with well-developed characters, whom you will fall in love with, hate, pity and embrace.
Suitable for mid-teens, due to some explicit sex, birth scenes
and language. Adult fiction.
“How can you catch the sparrow?”
Suite: Judy Blue Eyes
"The reason birds can fly and we can't
is simply because they have perfect faith,
for to have faith is to have wings."
J. M. Barrie
The Little White Bird
By Margo Jodyne Dills
My mother hovered over her ironing board like a miner panning some precious metal; her shoulders hunched, laboring. She turned each wrinkle into finely honed folds in my father’s boxer shorts. Her cotton housecoat was worn at the short cuffs and her lacy slip peeked out from under the hem. She shook water out of a bottle onto crumpled cotton and picked up her iron, pressing steam that filled the air with a scent that annoyed yet comforted me. My mother’s ironing took precedence over many things.
“Did you hear me, Mama?” I stood behind her, willing her to listen. “Reed College has accepted me! I can start in a couple months.” I gripped the envelope in my fisted hand.
She wagged her head and precisely placed the underwear into a growing stack on the kitchen counter and patted it with her fingertips.
I moved to the end of the faded flowery board with its scorch stains and water marks. “Why are you shaking your head?” I said, “I am going.”
She shoved a wicker basket with her foot and I watched my mother carefully space hankies, t-shirts, pillowcases, sheets in methodical order. She moved the pillowcases three times to make room for the small tower of my dad’s underwear, which she would carry into the next room and put in drawers equally as organized. I once listened while she explained to my aunt that my dad deserved to wear his undershorts in the exact same way they came out of the package. She stitched all the flaps shut because they were not only unnecessary, but made pressing difficult.
“Robin Margaret,” she spoke with her back to me, “you talk like a man with a paper head. What on God’s earth makes you think we can afford to send you to a fancy school in another state? You have no idea what it takes to pay the household bills.”
“Mama, look at me…” I moved around the ironing board and leaned down to peer up into her face but she focused on her task. “Why are you ignoring me?”
“Robin Margaret, if you don’t stop, I’m going to get mad.” My mother had a way with her face; she could take on the look of a rain-soaked pile of newspapers.
“Mad about what? What am I doing to make you mad? I just got accepted into the school I’ve always wanted to go! I’m lucky they even looked at my application, considering how late it was. Why would you be mad?”
“You are the most unreasonable child!” She slammed the iron down on the board, making it slide into the kitchen table; hot drops of water flew and hit her arms. She swiped them away like mosquitoes and looked me straight in the eye. “There is no room in your father’s wallet for this nonsense! We told you that last spring when you started this concocted idea.”
“It’s not concocted, Mama. I’m going to college to get a degree. My grades are perfect. My SAT score was almost 2400. It was higher than anyone in my class, by a long shot.”
“Don’t you get lippy with me, missy. A degree in what? How to keep your legs together? How to lure every boy in town to our back door like a dog in heat? How to roll your skirt up so anyone can see all the way to China? Is that what you need a degree for?”
“I don’t need to listen to this shit,” I said.
My mother chased me halfway up the stairs to my bedroom, whipping me with her damp pressing cloth. It marked the backs of my legs and arms with stinging red welts.
I nursed my mental wounds with a cigarette and blew the smoke out a crack in my bedroom window. My two numbskull brothers tossed a football in the field behind our house and I hated them in that moment; I hated their shitty grades, their piggish table manners, their ugly buzz-cuts, and their stinky farts.
My guitar was a source of solace for me and if I strummed quietly, no one would holler at me. I adjusted the capo and played around with some chord progressions. My head got going and I jotted down thoughts in my binder. Songs were born from jumbled words. I was a good musician and better lyricist; I needed to tell myself this.
My small sorrow is always next day, next day, You tell me you know the best way, best way. I try to watch you, I don’t want to cause you, you think you may be on to, It’s going to be your best day, when I go way away way.
My bed caught me as I flopped onto my back and stared at the walls. I loved my room. I hated it, too. How could the same place feel like a trap and yet bring so much freedom? Here was where I replaced photos of John Lennon with Paul McCartney, then back to Lennon, bordered by Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Eric Burdon, the three Joans… Collins, Baez and Mitchell. Cramped under the pitched ceiling, I sometimes wondered if I could take a hatchet and carve out a heaven for myself; wasn’t there an attic up there, wasted space? Behind my bedroom door, I’d do as I pleased, but like a prisoner, I knew that the other side held different thoughts, opposite opinions, venomous unspoken words, all dangers to my wandering and wondering mind.
I snuck into the bathroom and scrubbed my hands so they didn’t smell like ashtray. I brushed my teeth and rubbed Listerine around my mouth. Even that was chancy; my mother would suspect me of hiding something and she was right. I was hiding something.
My sister sat at the bottom of the stairs on the phone with her boy friend, Karl, and I left the bathroom door barely cracked so I could eavesdrop.
“You won’t go there. You won’t go to Viet Nam,” Holly said. “I just know you won’t.” There was a pause but I didn’t think Karl was talking. “I just want a ring,” she said. “That’s your promise to me.” Girls didn’t normally need to ask for a ring. The boy was supposed to think up that part. “Oh, Karl…” Holly giggled in a way that made me want to puke. My mother passed Holly and twirled her fingers, meaning my sister was supposed to wind up the discussion. “I have to get off the phone, Karl. I love you.” She wiggled around. “Karl, when you say ‘me, too,’ it doesn’t sound like you really mean it. Just say it. Please?” My mother reappeared and I backed away in case she might see me. She stood in front of Holly with her arms crossed. “Karl, I’ll be waiting for you to come and get me. I’m hanging up now and getting ready. I’ll be waiting for you, Karl, okay? I’m hanging up now. I love you, Karl.”
Holly raced up the stairs and into the bathroom; she ran right into me.
“What’re you doing? You listening in on my private conversation?”
I ignored her.
“Mind your own fucking business!” she hissed so our mother might not hear. “Skank. Twat.” She closed the bathroom door hard behind me.
My mother yelled from somewhere below. “Stop slamming doors!”
Saturday night crept up while I listened to my sister preparing for her date with Karl, her plastic rollers clunking in the bathroom sink as she pulled them out of her hair one at a time. I sat on my bed and counted all the money from my stupid waitress job. There was a total of $346.28. Yep, some people left pennies. We had special names for those folks, most who came from Seattle, which was only an hour to the north, though seemed like a million miles right now. I spent a lot of my own money that summer on dumb things. My boyfriend and I drove all the way to Ocean Shores a couple times and stayed in a motel. We didn’t see much of the ocean. My mom thought I was staying with my friend Pym. That was a lie.
The coast was clear, my mom in the living room watching The Jackie Gleason Show. I snuck downstairs, out the back door through the dark yard, and found my dad in his shop.
My father wasn’t the chatty type. He said what he needed to and then shut up. Daddy went to church on Sundays and the rest of the time he worked. He was an electrician by trade but did all kinds of other stuff, too. People liked him, but you didn’t see him socializing much, unless it was a wedding or funeral. The most we usually heard from him was a mumbled grace at dinnertime.
“Hi, Daddy.” I closed the door behind me and hugged myself against the cold. A potbelly stove in the corner put out enough heat for the corner and that was all. The garage door had a breach in the bottom large enough for every cat, dog, and raccoon in the neighborhood to gain access and create all kinds of racket in the middle of the night without being able to find their way out.
“Robbie?” He raised his eyebrows.
“Can I talk to you?”
“Sure, but if it’s about this school nonsense, find another topic, because you know it’s not going to happen. We aren’t those kind of people. We told you that in April.”
My mother had obviously beat me to it. I cranked a vice on his workbench open all the way. I wanted to put my head in, but it was too small.
“I can help pay,” I said.
“Oh, how’s that?”
I felt a flicker of optimism.
“I can work and go to school. I can take fewer credits and get a job in Portland.”
My dad put down the wires and cables he was working on; he sat on a sawhorse he used to lean on when he was tired. I lost my sense of confidence in his deep sigh. I would’ve had better results if I’d been able to stick my skull in that old vice.
A quick look around might have been depressing had it not been amusing. My old bike from ninth grade sat against the wall, its deflated tires sunk half an inch in the dirt. It was host to so many cobwebs, it could have stood up on its own, the bright red enamel paint faded to a pinkish gray. I waited too long for Daddy to make a priority of fixing the wheel rims; Richard showed up in my life and my need for a bicycle to get to work and school disappeared in one fatal lingering look.
My father liked me; I knew that, but I didn’t think it should make a whole lot of difference if I wasn’t around. I didn’t have a boyfriend anymore. I hated waiting on tables at Mattie’s. Men patted my butt; high-schoolers laughed at me and asked what happened to Miss Most-likely-to-succeed from last spring’s graduating class; women placed their orders like they were at the Hilton and I was their personal servant.
There were few streetlamps in our neighborhood so no one would see me walking around in the dark, smoking my last two Salems. I climbed onto the big rock at the corner; Mr. Ross had tried to move it over a decade ago but the deeper he dug, the bigger it got. We all watched the progress every night after he came home from work at Boeing Field. My father said an engineer should have been able to figure a way to unearth the rock, but confessed it might have tumbled down from its mother, Mount Rainier, and somehow was still attached. When Mr. Ross made the fateful decision to give up and leave it, The Rock became the corner for every kid within a half mile.
I stood at the top where I could view the stoplight on the edge of town, its tiny blinking light going from red to green to red. I tossed my half-smoked cigarette butt, jumped down at green, and ran all the way back home. The oncoming winter set deep into a person’s marrow and I felt cold to the core.
It was early the next morning, November, chilly with the scent of snow in the air. My mother stayed up waiting for Holly to get home and they got into it, right after I fell asleep, with my sister crying and pleading with our mother about how she would never do something that I didn’t care enough to find out about what it was. I never went back to sleep after that.
When the house was finally quiet and the dark was darkest before the dawn, I let myself out the back door. Things looked different than they had the night before when I’d walked down the same street, my little town that I’d lived my whole tiresome life. I don’t know what it was about the air that morning but I’d breathed it along enough. There were stars to follow, on sidewalks and in the sky. It was 1968.
The sun was still buried behind the foothills and crunchy gravel stuck together with bits of ice as I walked out of my neighborhood and to the end of Main Street. My guitar case was stuffed with extras like t-shirts and skirts, rolled up in small spaces, and my knapsack was bulging with an extra pair of jeans, underwear, and flip-flops, plus my toothbrush, comb, and two little bottles of shampoo I’d kept from when Richard and I had stayed in the motel on the coast. I stayed low off the side of the road and waited for trucks, half hid in the ditch, turning my face from anyone who'd cheerfully report they'd seen me loitering.
A semi braked long and hard; I was shocked and gleeful with the realization I had a ride. It was that easy. I climbed rungs into the cab and burned my hand when I grabbed an exhaust pipe next to the door. For a long time after, every time I gripped the neck of a guitar, I pictured that exact spot in the road, the last street out of my humble northwestern birthplace.
I tossed my gear in and hugged the door, the luckiest eighteen-year-old idiot on the planet. The burly, bearded driver asked where I wanted to go and took me all the way to the freeway, no questions asked. I rode with my jaws clamped shut, afraid to give anything away. I shook with shivers and giggles when I piled out with my belongings at an onramp; I shouted gratitude over the rumble of the departing engine. Not a soul heard me, cars whizzing past like I was no longer visible.
I thought my thumb would fall off until I got my next ride, but it took me all the way to Portland, Oregon with two wizened country musicians on their way to a fiddle contest. I sat in the back and listened to them argue about their performance.
“We only picked you up cuz of your axe there, girl,” the driver said. “You should carry a tire iron in that case.”
“A tire iron? What for?” I asked. I could hardly imagine something so tough and clunky nestled next to my guitar.
“Case someone takes you on, you know, thinks he can have his way,” said the passenger.
“I’ll be fine,” I said, with the first suggestion of doubt entering my mind since I started out that morning. “I can take care of myself.” I sat up taller.
“You ain’t that big,” the passenger said. “You better be prepared to defend yourself.”
He fumbled around in a canvas bag at his feet. Considering we were going seventy per on the interstate, there was no way out.
“This here is what you need.” He scared the bejesus out of me, reaching into the back seat with a black can that said MACE and had a picture of a yellow dog baring teeth. “I’ll let you have that one. I get the stuff from an army friend so it’s free. Be real careful with it; you have it turned the wrong way and you spray yourself in the face, it’ll likely knock you right outa your socks.”
The can landed on the back seat between me and my guitar; there was no way I was going to touch it.
The rest of the way was music; he pulled out his violin and though there wasn’t a lot of room, he practiced for their show while his friend drove and sang. I watched him pluck and slide his finger up and down the string, which inspired me to pull out my guitar.
“Well it ain’t the Cotton Eyed Joe,” he said when they stopped, “but it’s a goodun. I think we’ve got a chance.”
I thought it was a winner, for sure.
“Did you have a lot of lessons?” I asked.
“Some,” he said. “You’re pretty quick on that axe, young lady. How many lessons have you had?”
“None,” I said,” I just get books from the library.”
“You’re a smart gal, alright. You keep practicing that pizzicato glissando and you’ll have something there.”
“That picking style. That’s what it’s called. You don’t need no lessons. Just keep playing, chickadee, every day.”
They had a ways to go off the freeway so they dumped me at an onramp. I left the can of spray in the car, but I took away some lessons from those fiddlers.
I had a series of short rides until I got to Roseburg, just north of the California state line. One was a Christian family who preached to me the whole time about what a sinner I was. Another was an old man with pigs in the back of his pick-up. They were all tied in and made a lot of racket. He said they were crying because they knew they were going to the slaughterhouse. He was the ride that took me to the truck stop.
“You need to find someone going all the way to your destination,” the farmer said. We walked along a line of huge rumbling trucks. I stood behind him while he talked to drivers to find out where they were going and asked questions. I was a helpless kid, tagging after this old man around a huge parking lot while he carried out mini-interrogations.
First question he asked every one of them was “What’s your CB handle?” The guy who answered Virgin Surgeon was immediately eliminated.
“You got kids?” “You married?” “Love your wife?” “Are you a Christian fellow?”
My own father didn’t seem to have this much concern about my existence.
After being given the third degree, a lucky trucker was chosen to have the pleasure of my company, for free, all the way to Los Angeles. I climbed up with my blistered hand, made worse by playing guitar with the hillbillies. I bid farewell to a stranger who cared for me maybe more than I did myself.
Truckers don’t talk much unless they’re having a conversation with someone on their CB radio. This guy’s handle was unimaginative and boring…Road Roller. I listened for awhile to him joking in CB language, which I didn’t understand except maybe the goal of Tinseltown. I slept for hours.
When I opened my eyes, it was dawn and we were in the city. We drove through a flat area with low-slung buildings, large lots with huge empty spaces, and writing on walls in Spanish.
“I’m letting you off on Olympic Boulevard, little lady,” the truck driver said. It was the most he spoke to me the whole trip. “I don’t got time to take you where you want to go.”
“That’s okay,” I said. “I don’t really know where I want to go.”
“You meeting someone?”
“No, I don’t know a soul here,” I said.
“Well, be careful,” he said. “Don’t get mixed up with them Jesus freaks, okay?”
“Sure,” I said.
I got out at an intersection, climbed down to the pavement, and reached up to swing the door shut, just as the light turned green.
I felt like a young émigré who doesn't know the language, wearing culturally objectionable clothing, and doesn't have two local coins to rub together. One thing I did know: the meager funds tucked under my cleavage wouldn't last forever. The small wad of cash in a cloth bag sat against my breastbone like a little bird nest. In 1968, a few hundred dollars could go a long way, but I knew from my brief hitchhiking journey how fast a ten-dollar-bill can turn into a handful of change.
I had to pee bad and headed to the 7-11 on the corner. A baloney sandwich on white bread and a bag of Fritos was my first meal in California. I sat on a bench at a bus stop and looked up. Palm trees, tall and slender, reached up to the sky in an unnatural way. I was used to trees that were thick, with gigantic feathery boughs, sturdy and full.
I had no idea what direction to go; I started walking.
THANKS FOR READING!