Last week, I shot Lani.
Friday’s blog post was the first time I’d ever released a work in progress (fiction, no less!) into the harsh, critical world. Nobody seemed to hate it, which I took as encouragement. And that’s positive reinforcement, because I’ve set a goal: post each Friday throughout November, which is National Novel Writing Month. That accountability, in theory, will push me to finish the rough outlines of a book.
Through writing daily, I’ve discovered my creative process isn’t flowing in a linear fashion. So far, there’s been lots of starts and stops, sketching, and skipping around within this story–and I expect that will continue. Resisting the urge to edit is like trying not to bite my fingernails.
While what appears next may make sense, this progression differs from my planned plot. How that finished product and this exercise in creative accountability compare should be interesting reading.
Section II: Lani Wakes Up
“Lani, sweetie? C’mon, wake up, Lani.”
For a moment, Lani was back in that warm pink and yellow room, the one with the blue line of demarcation painted down the center, that she’d fitfully shared with her younger sister, Mona. Am I late for school, she wondered drowsily, sure that on yet another morning, Ramona Johnson had already monopolized the lone upstairs bathroom and successfully raided their shared, overflowing closet for just the right outfit while Lani, weird high school theater geek and so-so student that she was, had slept through the alarm. Jesus, will you shut that incessant beeping off and let me sleep?
And then her eyes snapped open to fully focus on Mona’s very adult face worriedly looming above her.
“Mona? What’s wrong?”
A sunrise smile transformed her sister’s face at the very moment she burst into tears. “Oh my God, Lani,” Mona said, grabbing Lani in a gingerly embrace.
Lani gasped as a dull pain became insistently present. Her body hurt; her tongue felt like a dirty, pilled blanket; foggy and dull, her head felt as though she’d slept through a particularly bad migraine. Lani lay in a hospital room, not her childhood twin bed—and her sister, the present-day, grown-up Mona, the Johnson girl with a smart, well-to-do white collar husband, adorable toddler, and deed to their mother’s longtime Austin home, was a wretched, sniffling mess. When Mona falls apart, everything has surely gone to shit, Lani thought, and with that, she, too, began to cry.
“Oh, Lani—stop, stop!” Mona stood, briskly wiping the tears from her eyes, and turned the bright smile back on. She dragged a rump-sprung recliner close and grasped her sister’s hand, carefully navigating the IV lines snaking from Lani’s arm. “Do you know where you are? Do you remember what happened?”
“There was a pig. . .”
Lani’s voice trailed away as she became aware of others in the room. A nurse busily hovered in the background and she saw a tall, professionally dressed woman lounging by the door. Though her lanky body suggested a “just chilling” attitude, the slightly rumpled suit jacket said “all business” and her dark blue eyes, fixed on Lani and Mona with sharp attention, followed every word and movement. She reminded Lani a little bit of those red-tailed hawks she’d see perched on cedar posts—still but full of potential energy. Seeing Lani’s confused glance, the woman stepped forward.
“Hello, Lani. I’m Detective Volente with APD. I’m here to talk about what happened on the trail Wednesday evening.” She nodded courteously at Mona, whose slant across the bed and grip on Lani’s hand had become resolutely protective. “I realize this feels sudden, but it’s important that I get your memories recorded as soon as possible so we can understand exactly how your injury occurred.”
“My injury?” Lani looked at Mona for help but her sister’s face remained still. “I was running at the preserve because it’s like the race terrain. You know, steep and rocky but with roots. I wanted to get in about five or six hours on my feet because I’m trying for another 100K in January. . .”
Was she was rambling? Lani sensed that she hadn’t yet focused quite where Mona or the detective wanted but pulling forth the details was hard; thoughts felt cocooned in protective bubble wrap, her memories filed away in solitary cells. Squeezing them through the doorways of Lani’s limited consciousness was taking intense energy. She just wanted to sleep.
Volente had stepped closer, the detective’s recording phone clearly visible in one long-fingered, nail-bitten hand. Mona stroked Lani’s arm absently. I’m not your 4-year-old, Lani thought crossly, immediately slipping into the resentful, habitual role of older (less successful, whispered her mother’s voice) sister. Maneuvering her arm free, she pressed both hands to her eyes. God, please make them all just go away.
Volente’s sharp eyes flickered toward Mona for a brief second. Lani thought she’d probably read their entire relationship from that subtle arm adjustment. “It’s okay; take your time. I’m in no hurry here and everything you can remember is important,” she said. The detective’s voice was like cool water on an August day—instantly soothing. Lani sighed; she was doing okay. Volente didn’t care about the rambling.
Leaning back into the chair, Mona dropped her gaze to her hands and the rings she began absently twisting. That broken physical contact freed Lani and she shifted ever so slightly in the bed, wincing as she moved.
“Damn. It’s like somebody beat me up—I feel like shit,” she groaned. “I remember being hit—hitting something—my shoulder hurting so bad. I fell. . . “
Volente seemed to watch Lani’s thoughts slowly processing and, when the younger woman suddenly gasped, she bent down, closer. It was like she was pulling the realization out of Lani. “But I didn’t run into anything, did I? There wasn’t a pig, right?” Lani looked up at the detective, incredulously. “Oh my God—I was shot?”
The detective nodded. “Yes, Lani. Someone shot you. You’ve had surgery and been recovering here at St. David’s; I’ll let your sister fill you in on those details later. I’m here to talk with you about what happened. Anything you can remember about the time up until and immediately after you were hurt will be very helpful.”
“But why would anyone want to shoot me?” Lani searched Volente’s dark eyes for answers. “I mean, I’m nobody. Like, my whole life, I’m practically invisible and then someone shoots me? Nobody even knew I was out there. What the fuck?”
Volente tilted her head ever so slightly, holding Lani’s gaze. “Well, Lani, it’s hard to image why some people do things, especially when you’re a law-abiding person like yourself. Though I and my partner, Detective Gilmartin, may piece together an explanation, you’re probably not going to understand why.”
The older woman’s calm demeanor and measured voice brought Lani back from the careening steamroller of searing anger and incredulous fear barreling over her. She continued: “We also must consider that this wasn’t personal. Perhaps the individual intended to shoot someone—or something—else and you simply appeared at the wrong moment. Or maybe no one meant to shoot anyone; this could’ve been kids firing a weapon they didn’t know how to use properly.”
Lani took a deep breath, willing her heart rate to slow. Maybe it wasn’t about me. Maybe someone out there doesn’t hate me enough to hurt me.
Detective Volente’s voice brought her back into the room. She placed her phone on the tray table and pulled a small pad and pen from a jacket pocket. “Lani, your memories will provide crucial information as we put together evidence from the scene analysis. So, please; can you tell me what you remember?”
Lani closed her eyes and willed herself away from the hospital, with its smells, annoying sounds, and harsh artificial light. Away from the pain throbbing through her. Back onto the trail.