Happily, technology affords writers a means of putting those darlings on ice, a digital graveyard where the dear departed can cling to the hope of a second life, perhaps reincarnated in a future work.
In the case of my first book, DELIVER HER, a mother’s rescue mission that goes south, darlings identified for the chopping block included the points of view of Iris and Mia Bailey.
While Iris willingly gave up the ghost, accepting her downsized fate, Mia refused to rest in peace, taunting me until I offered life support: her own short story, told in the first person, of course. (What else would you expect from an entitled millennial?)
So, in this space, I give you Mia Bailey’s story, entitled “Still Life,” in four installments I’ll roll out more or less regularly over the next few posts, a strategy I hope will entice you to subscribe if you haven’t already.
Maybe now Mia will stop haunting me.
And writers: please use the Comments section to offer a eulogy for any darlings you’ve had to eradicate.
What the hell were swish pants, I wondered, scrutinizing the knots of humanity at the prison entrance. The visitors’ dress code was explicit: no athletic gear, no jackets, no sleeveless shirts, no nurses’ scrubs.
And no swish pants.
I worried I might wear them unknowingly if I decided to visit him. I hadn’t, yet. The prison caseworker first tried to reach me a week ago, while I was choosing between paintbrushes for spring studio class. Ignoring the call, I stroked an imaginary canvas with each: the mongoose lush and full-bodied, stiffer than sable but softer than workaday bristle; the Ruby Satin’s fiery sable like pure magic, hand-cupped in its seamless, nickel-plated brass ferrule, ready to do my bidding.
Reluctantly, I put back the pricier brushes, promising myself if I ever traded my White Mountains for the Great White Way’s hallowed art halls, I’d splurge on a dozen Rubies.
In my car, I played back the caseworker’s message:
I’m looking for the daughter of Felix Delgado.
It was me she sought: Mia Bailey, the artist formerly known as Maria Delgado. Her words brought everything back: the heinous act that severed our bond thirteen years ago; the childless couple who took me in, offering a fresh canvas for my future, placing a paintbrush in my hand to express what words could not, their love healing me.
Over time, I no longer dreamt of that night: my birth mother yanking me into a closet and clutching me to her saffron-scented apron until the only sound in our apartment was her heart hammering against my cheek. I woke alone, on a makeshift mattress of coats.
Later, online, I stumbled upon the jurors who absolved Delgado’s addictions, literally saving his neck in a state constitutionally predisposed to hanging.
No one could save Delgado now, the caseworker told me. The C5 in C5432998, his inmate ID, stood for maximum security. Also, the big C had ravaged his brain. Her voice softened. “The man is dying, Maria.”
“It’s Mia,” I corrected.
“He’d like to see you, Mia. He has a few months at best. Please think about it.”
His last wish blurred every dimension of my paint-by-number life: the cushion of my adopted mother’s shoulder as she read and rocked; mornings sketching beside my adopted father in his turkey blind, a nest of twigs and fencing we camouflaged with fresh greens on every visit; hours losing myself in my studio, the sacred space he constructed for me from our shed, majestic windowed walls rising to meet in a sleek arch overhead, my latest work propped on an easel inside.
My parents were on the porch when I got back to Swiftriver, the general store they operated on the hip of the Kancamagus Highway. My father stood, contemplating Mount Washington, while my mother lounged in an Adirondack chair. Both brightened at my arrival.
“So: what did you decide?” she asked.
END OF PART 1.