Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Meeting in Renewal

An excerpt from a project I've been working with for what seems like forever.  Tara is a character in the story of Katrina's Kitchen.  Will this be part of the whole?  Some of it will.  I like to learn more about the supporting cast in my stories.  This is one of those excercises. 

Tara had been home from work about an hour, her waitress shift at the Kitchen had seemed particularly long today. She usually enjoyed the camaraderie of the townies and the news from the big city brought by the regular commuters. But, today she had only felt anxious. Ready to leave.

After a bowl of microwaved soup and a hot shower, she crawled early into her pajamas. To relax, she had pulled a pile of yarn and a half completed afghan into her lap. The monotonous rhythm of the hook as it formed loops and knots lulled her into a zen like state.

Crochet was still new to her, and seemed out of place in her life. But she had found solace in it. When she’d first come to Renewal eight years before, she had been close to a mental breakdown. She never had figured out why she was drawn there. A little dot on the big Nebraska map. It was a good thing she had, in Renewal she had regained her sanity and learned how to cope with her “gift”.

After a near fatal car accident five years before coming to the little town, she began to hear voices. At first she thought it was similar to ringing in the ears, a residual effect of the injuries. As the voices became clearer, she began to think she was crazy. Then, as she “listened” she realized she was hearing other peoples thoughts.

At first it was kind of fun, then kind of creepy. In time it became overwhelming. She couldn’t turn off the noise. In a crowded room it was as though hundreds of people were trying to carry on hundreds of conversations. It started to be impossible for her to work, go out to eat, or even to the grocery.

To make it worse, no one believed her. The doctors wanted to medicate her. Her family wanted to commit her. She tried a psychic, but all that accomplished was learning that at least this one was a fake, more interested in her coming to work for him to read his clients minds and trick them out of more money.

After a day that left her wanting to rip her ears off, she got into her car and started to drive. Aimlessly she thought. Looking for a place with no people. She had decided to find an isolated lake house or something similar. If she avoided people she might someday sleep again.

Tara had been three weeks on the road when she found herself rolling into the tiny town of Renewal, Nebraska. Main street was the absolute stereotype of small towns everywhere. Farmers in overalls. Pick up trucks. The local diner. A closed theater.

It took a minute or two for her to notice, she didn’t hear the town folk. She did hear one voice, and only one. And it spoke directly to her, “Come on in for a cup of coffee, sweetie. Take a break and we’ll work this out.”

Though her instinct said hit the gas, she was shaking so badly it made much more safety sense to pull into a parking space. As she sat paralyzed by fear, she ventured a look around. Leaned against the door jamb of the diner, looking her way, was a woman.

Tara sat still trying to look anywhere but at the woman in the diner’s doorway. When she ventured a second glance in her direction, the woman smiled and waved, beckoning her to come. Again the voice in her head, “It’s okay, really. I can help. That’s why you're here, right?”

With a giggle that edged on hysterics, Tara rolled down the car window. “Uh, excuse me? Do I know you, ma’am?”

The woman walked toward her car, “Not yet, sweetie, but that’s okay. I make friends fast.” At least this line was not just in Tara’s head. “ And I just made a fresh pot of coffee, no one else is here for me to talk to right now. I could use the company.” She’d reached the car door now. Tara met her eyes, they were light brown and shining with humor. She must've been in her late thirties or early forties. Her black hair was mostly covered by a colorful bandanna, and what she could see was tightly curled..

Finally Tara gathered the courage to open the car door and step out. The woman was a few inches shorter that she was. “I’m Katie Crowe, I own the diner here, Katrina’s Kitchen. But do not, please, call me Katrina. I’m just Katie.” She smiled at Tara again, holding her hand out. Tara gave her hand to Katie, the two stood a moment, then Katie returned her hand. “Lets get to that cup, now. And we’ll chat a while before the dinner crowd shows up.”

Tara followed Katie inside. The diner was brightly lit, the fresh pot of coffee filled the space with its rich smell. Katie poured two mugs and ushered Tara to one of the empty booths. “Thank you.” Tara managed to say. “Um, I'm kind of confused, or ….”

“Hush, people come to see me for lots of reasons. And just like you, they don’t know why they ended up here. I’m not really sure either. “ Katie grinned with honest mirth, “I must have a magnetic personality!”

Tara shyly grinned back, Katie’s good humor was catching. “I get the feeling you know why I’m here even if I don't.” Tara shifted a bit, embarrassed by her situation.

“I get dreams. They give me a heads up when someone is headed my way. They don’t, though, tell me your name. So how about you tell me.” Katie cocked her head, giving Tara the feeling she was settling in for a story. She chuckled to herself. Alrighty, she thought, you want a story, I can give you one.

“My name’s Tara Roman, and I hear people’s thoughts.” She steeled herself for the raised eyebrows or blank stares she had gotten from her family and doctor.

“Well, Tara, I knew you could hear me. And I know you've been bombarded by other’s thought noise for a long time. So I kind of made myself loud enough to block everyone else out.”

“Oh. I wondered about that. I haven’t heard anyone but you since I drove into town.” Tara had gotten over her trepidation in the excitement of Katie’s statement. Maybe, just maybe, this woman could help her. “Can you cure me?”

“You don't need cured, girl. You just need to know how to control your gift.”

That was the beginning of her life in Renewal. Katie told her that she needed something to be louder than the voices. She suggested knitting, but Tara was hopeless. Even after enlisting the help of the town’s resident old lady, Missy McKay, Tara could not get the hang of it.

It was May Harrison that showed her crochet. And Katie taught her to use the stitch counting to focus on her own thoughts instead of letting everyone else’s drown them out. It worked, in time. The more she counted, the fainter the outside voices became. Soon she could tune them out without the stitch counting. She still crocheted though. She loved the feel of the yarn sliding through her fingers. She loved giving her finished projects as gifts. She loved the perfect quiet that happened as she worked.

Until this day. As she counted and began to fall lazily into her yarn trance, she began to repeat a phrase. “It will be alright.” The words meant nothing to Tara, she didn’t even know how long she had been repeating them before she became aware.

She stopped her hook, frowning as she tried to pin point a voice or thought that had triggered the phrase. She had learned to listen when she wanted to, which was seldom. She liked people better when their secrets remained secret. But she had occasionally reached out to trouble minds, to help or comfort. But she found no source for this chant.

She shrugged, and picked up her work, ready to start counting again. The mess she held, though, had no resemblance to the cute teddy bear she’d been making. What should have been a snub button style nose was too long. Becoming a lupine muzzle. The bobbed tail, also elongated into a decidedly doggish look.

“What the hell is this?” she said out loud as she pulled the yarn, hurriedly undoing the disturbing shape that had been forming. She rewound the yarn into a loose ball and picked up her hook to start anew. “One and two and three and four and alright, alright. It’ll be alright.” She stopped mid stitch. “Oh no, no you don’t. Get out of my head!”

Tara threw the yarn and half finished project into her work basket. She spent several minutes controlling her breathing. Still shaken, she got up and started pacing. She went from room to room in her small home, looking for something to explain the repetitive words that were now echoing in her mind.

Finally she gave up, went to her fridge and grabbed a beer. After two more, the voice was much quieter, she fell asleep on the sofa in her living room with all the lights on.


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