An Experiment, Part Three

Summer 2008:

Lily Carlson walked into the familiar rehearsal room, glancing into the mirrors long enough to see that her reddish brown hair was still in place and that the cover-up she’d applied early that morning still covered the emerging blue half-circles under her brown eyes. Then she turned away large mirrors that tended to mock American Idol finalists—especially since none of them could dance. “Dance” belonged in heavy air quotes.
She’d hardly left American Idol before it was time to come back, to perfect more music, to learn to at least look as if she was in step with everyone else. Had it really been only four days? It felt longer, a lifetime of answering questions such as, “How does it feel to be third place? Was the experience worth it? Who do you think will win?” Her reaction to being voted off had been played over and over again. Lily had even endured having to watch through her original audition in Philadelphia a few times, when she’d sung Janis Joplin. Then there was the loaded question: “Are you and David Cook together?”
Lily had nearly burst into laughter the first time that question had come up; she could only surmise that it had come about because of the top three, she was the only girl, and she, David and David were all single. David Cook was 25 and Lily had just turned 24. Although they were great friends now, based on bare facts alone, they had nothing in common. She was from New York, the youngest of two, had gone to an overcrowded New York public high school, and had hung out with the studious but artsy crowd in college. She was practically morally opposed to frat boys, which was what David had been in college. And he was from the Midwest, which was a different planet compared to New York. Then again, American Idol was foreign compared to any sort of existence.
Lily walked into the lounge near the dance studio to drop her bag and found David Archuleta sitting in one chair, eyes glazed over as he listened to his iPod. David Cook was sprawled on the couch, a guitar carefully placed next to him. He opened his eyes as she approached.
“Lils!” He said, trying to sit up. “You’re back!”
“I am, I am,” she said, dropping her backpack on a chair. Archie stood to give her a hug. Cook simply held his arms out for a hug, like a little kid, giving up on sitting up.
“We saw you on TV,” Archie said.

Book The First: early 2009. A revised version of the Ongoing Saga.

The Keegan Inheritance. Spring-Summer 2009, version 1.2:
Madeline reached the part where Equiano related his near-recapture into slavery on a trip to the American South. He was on a ship bound to Jamaica, but the captain clapped Equiano in irons, intending to sell him into slavery in South America. Equiano had already bought his freedom.
She shuddered. That couldn’t happen anymore—Britain had outlawed the international slave trade from its shores in 1807, America in 1808—but the thought was never terribly far from her mind. It hadn’t been until one day, when she was six and went with Miles to Keegan-Tilney’s office on the harbor, that she saw the slave trade for herself—and the possible threats to her, the cherished and protected daughter of Miles Keegan and Delphine Cabot.
Miles had been speaking to a captain about a recent shipment of tea that had gone awry. Madeline and Alexandra looked out of the large windows on the harbor side of the building. The sea always comforted them. England was still so new then and they clung to Miles more than they ever had.Barbadoshot sun, ocean in view, sugar cane as far as the eye could seewas still fresh in their minds and England with its wishy-washy weather and confined spaces compared unfavorably.One large ship was anchored at a wharf not far from they stood. 

Sailors had been on and off like worker ants, carrying cargo down. Mady saw three chained black men walk down the gangway. Mady remembered gasping at the sight, wondering how three strong men could be compelled to tumble forward down a ramp while chained. She wondered why the black men didn’t break free, for they all looked strong, their inadequate, thin shirts revealing sleek muscles.

What are you looking at, girls?” Miles asked, walking to his daughters. “Oh. Oh God.”

“Are they servants, Papa? Why are they chained?” Her voice had risen in pitch.

“No, Mady. They’re slaves.” He then mumbled, “Like the ones we had in Barbados.”
The ones he’d freed upon sale of the property. The ones he convinced Delphine to free in her will, though as her husband, Miles controlled her person and property legally. He was the executor.
The chained men trudged past the window, the slave trader behind them, shooing them along. He was a fat man, for a sailor, and his dirty clothes spoke of months on a poor ship. Mady imagined she could smell his sour odor through the glass-paned window. As he passed, the man stopped for a moment and stared directly at her.
Miles’s hand squeezed her left shoulder. His face, reflected back to her in the upper reaches of the glass, was fierce.

His eyebrows drew close, forming an angry dark line above flashing eyes.
Then he said, deliberately loud so that perhaps the man could hear him, “Come along, daughters. We’re off home.”

Last Request. Written September 2009-April 2010.
He pulls out a carton of eggs and a beer. The refrigerator closes. Brix puts the beer near me on a spot of counter, then reaches into a cabinet for a bowl.
Scrambled eggs? At nearly eleven at night? Strange are the ways of chefs. I watch him crack three eggs and separate the yokes and whites.
“What are you doing?” I ask.
He doesn’t answer; only takes a whisk out of a drawer, grabs it firmly in his right hand, holds the bowl tightly and begins whisking at a steady pace. The utensil claps against the sides of the bowl, scrape-scrape-scrape, while the whites splash rhythmically, like water licking at ankles on the beach.
I sip beer. Brix’s hand, wrist and forearm move in quick, practiced movements, the speed fast—too fast after a few minutes. Almost violent. His shoulder moves as he churns. When did he become so broad-shouldered, his arms muscular? Soon after he started cooking, I guess. I never noticed until we slept together the first time. Chef’s arms: because he whisks when he could’ve easily put the whites in the mixer, which is sitting on the counter beside the coffee maker.
His wrist keeps turning, his face focused completely on the bowl and the very slowly increasing whites. I’ve seen meringues made before, on TV. I think that’s what he’s doing. I wonder if his arm is burning yet. But he doesn’t slow down. The metal whisk still clicks against the bowl’s sides as it collides.
Who makes meringues this late at night?
A guy who’s just been told that his friend is now in the body of his on-again, off-again, that’s who. I take another long swig. Brix keeps imitating a mixer. The whisk pauses for a short second. Brix peers into the bowl. His frown deepens.
I am once more kept company by a man impersonating a butter churn, but in angry, swift movements. The rest of his body is rigid. Tense. His muscles must be clenched together. I stare at his clear-cut jaw and see tendons flare. I think he’s grinding his teeth.
Maybe I shouldn’t have let the situation slip. But what else could I do?

Keegan Inheritance, Version 2.0. Currently writing.
Mady watched as the row of tattered black people came closer. They were being urged on by a fat white man with a stained coat. Mady’s nostrils flared. He probably stank.
The chained walked with heads bowed, bare feet picking carefully over dirty streets and chains. Mady saw that they had hair like hers, tight black curls, though not so neat.
Small chest heaving, Mady glanced over her shoulder toward the window. Where was Papa? Surely he could do something…
Then she was pulled forward by the shoulder, her hand jerked out of Alex’s. Something reeked—an odor of salt, rotten fish, and sour body smells.
Mady looked into the face of the fat white man, his hammy fist clawing into her shoulder.
“Let her go!” Alex roared, high-pitched voice indignant.
“Is she your servant?” The man asked Alex. Mady’s eyelids fluttered at the smell of his breath.
“She’s my sister!”
“Sister?” He narrowed his eyes at Mady. He sneered. “I think you’re mistaken.”
“No. She is my sister. My younger sister,” Alex added, though the girls rarely differentiated each other by age. For eight months of a year, Alex was a year older.
“She’s fit to only be a servant! A house girl, I think. Looks high yellow.” The man was too strong for Mady to resist and as he began to pull her away, Alex snatched Mady’s other wrist. He almost got Mady to the middle of the road, where the chained Africans stood in misery and confusion. Alex planted her booted feet and kept her sister beside her with two hands, calling for Papa.
“Papa!” Mady screamed.
“Unhand my daughter,” a deep, cool voice said from behind. “Immediately, you wretch.”
The stinky man let go of her. Mady rubbed at her shoulder.
“Daughter?” The man echoed. “One can never account for another man’s proclivities.”
“Indeed,” Papa replied, resting a hand on each of the girls’ shoulders. Nothing so bad could happen with Papa nearby. “If you don’t leave now, sir, and go about your odious and immoral business, I’d be forced to call you out. Now, I don’t believe in duels, but I am a rather good shot. As you’ve threatened my child and frightened both, I think a duel may be the only way to settle this insult.”
“A duel? Over that scrap of a girl?”
“Precisely. One doesn’t try to abduct the granddaughter of Viscount Halbridge. Do you have children, sir? Shall I go to your home and wrench them away from their lives?”
Oh, and for good measure. The neverending quest for the perfect cover letter:
I have more than three years experience in the publishing industry, where I have developed writing, copyediting, fact checking and proofreading skills. I have also learned sales and marketing skills through internships at Columbia University Press and WW Norton, as well as customer service skills during my time in retail. I believe all of these skills will be an asset to the School Library Journal.
I took two courses in copyediting. I have proofread letters and manuscripts as an intern, as well as correcting Norton Professional’s website by learning and using Adobe Contribute. I have basic Quark and InDesign skills and also blog, so I understand basic HTML. At my current internship, I read and evaluate queries and manuscripts for a Young Adult audience, one of your company’s focus audiences.

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