fangirling | The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

In bullet point format. Because bullet points are cool now.

  • This was my first Sue Monk Kidd book. I had been interested in reading her work since The Secret Life of Bees hit bookshelves. But I can’t remember why.
  • Truth: Ever since high school I’ve had this story floating around in my head of two girls being raised on a plantation, one a slave, the other the owner’s daughter. The story would have been told from both points of view and would follow their life stories: rebellions, heartache and the pains of becoming and understanding one’s self. This novel is that story.
  • I feel a kind of grief? over the story that I never wrote, like losing an unborn child and then seeing her face suddenly one day.
  • The amount of research behind it bleeds through in the compelling realness of the traditions and atmosphere SMK describes.
  • The author’s note confirms that this story is actually based on fact – most of the characters were real people and several of the incidents described in the book actually happened. But it is layered heavily with fiction.
  • The imagery was beautiful and heart-wrenching. The themes of enslavement and freedom went so much deeper than the literal shackles the novel described.
  • I love a book that paints people as they are: with faults and failings, trying to survive the best they can. This book does that.
  • My first book about slavery, and I think I’ll read more.

Image not mine. Obviously.

{fiction} The Road Not Taken

“Come on,” he cajoles, “be a mensch.”

I hesitate for a moment. Looking beyond the young man standing in front of me, I spot his friends walking away. Probably still talking about extra-terrestrials and string theory. I wonder, why me.

“Do I know you?” I ask politely, but firmly.

“Nope, I’m just making conversation. Was I creepy?”

“A bit, yeah.” 

I smile. “Sure.”

I follow the three guys, barely out of their teens, back through the campus gates into one of several waiting taxis.

“We’re bored, so we’re just walking around,” he tells me without my asking. “We might end up at this Arab place, learn some Arabian culture.”

“Fascinating,” I reply. I really mean it. 

The taxi makes some twists and turns that are foreign to me, but then everything is foreign to me in this new city that is not the city of my birth but a city that I must reside in and get used to and perhaps one day grow to like. But that day is not today.

I begin to realize several things almost at once.

The streets outside the taxi window are unfamiliar. I do not recall the taxi having a red plate. The driver and the front seat passenger – one of the three young men I have so blithely followed – are having a whispered conversation. I am in the middle in the back, between the young man who told me to be a mensch and the one who mentioned String Theory. The windows are wound up. The radio is not playing. The driver is slowing down, and I do not see an Arabian place in sight. I do not see much of anything because I am being pushed down into the lap of the mensch who holds my wrists with a grip of steel while String Theory hauls my ankles onto the seat so he can control my legs despite my fierce, panicked struggling.

I yank one ankle free to kick him in the face and am rewarded by the mensch pressing his elbow into my throat. String Theory begins to force my thighs apart. My throat burns while my eyes sting with tears. Desperately I wonder, why me.

I am staring at the man who wants me to be a mensch.

“That sounds great,” I hear myself say. “But maybe some other time. I’ve got plans tonight.”

He looks disappointed, but brushes off my rejection with a terse “Whatever.”

We walk away. I am flattered, and strangely relieved.

Hush little baby

The baby was crying. Joanna’s eyes flew open when she heard the first mewls and she extracted herself from the bed as slowly as possible so she wouldn’t wake Jeffrey, her husband. He didn’t get much sleep these days, she knew, and he needed his rest whenever he did manage to come home from his duties in the Emergency Department at Cornwall Regional Hospital.

The clock on the bedside table read 2:15AM when she padded quietly to the baby’s room, directly opposite their own. She crossed the floor quickly to scoop her daughter our of the crib and press her to her chest.

“There there, Josephine,” she murmured softly, smoothing the downy hair atop the baby’s head. She bounced Josephine lightly in her arms but the infant continued to cry. Worse, she was building up steam. Joanna felt a pang of panic as Josephine’s screams grew louder. She shifted the tiny body in her arms and began to pace the room, searching her tired brain for a soothing lullaby.

But Josephine would not be calmed. She scrunched up her tiny face, clenched her little hands into fists and bawled. Joanna was at her wits end, torn by concern for her baby and fear that the screams would rouse Jeffrey.

The baby was crying. Jeffrey heard the sound pierce his dreamless sleep with vengeful clarity, and his mood immediately soured. He had been on his feet for twenty hours straight on his last shift and Joanna couldn’t even let him get some rest when he came home? Bitch. She was always going out of her way to make him feel bad. Now she probably wanted to guilt him into helping her with the baby.

Instead of getting up he rolled over, using the second pillow to cover his head. The screams were muffled now but still audible enough to prevent him from falling back asleep. Jeffrey felt undiluted anger bubble up inside him. Bubble until it reached a breaking point where he threw the pillow aside and stalked into the hallway. The baby’s door was closed but he wrenched it open and stormed into the room.

“Can’t you keep her quiet?” he demanded.

“I’m trying, Jeffrey,” his pitiful wife pleaded, “I think she might have colic or something. If you would just look -”

“I’M TIRED!” Jeffrey roared. “And I’m not a blasted paediatrician!”

Josephine’s screams increased to match her father’s thunderous tone. Joanna tried futilely to calm her.

“You make her shut up,” Jeffrey threatened, “or else.”

“Please, Jeffrey, no. She’s just a baby,” Joanna begged, backing away. “She can’t help it.”

“And you’re a grown woman,” Jeffrey said nastily, advancing on his wife. “I didn’t expect you to be this useless.” When he had cornered her against the wall, he raised his hand.

And another set of cries soon filled the air.

{14} in transit: the cornwall courts death rattle

The woman who approaches the car is not small in frame, or young. The brightly patterned skirt that hugs her body seems extra loud, ballooning out as it holds her legs and hips together.

“Green Pon’, driver?” she asks, wiping the sweat off her forehead with one hand and gripping a scandal bag full of groceries in the other.

The driver, who falls into the category of cantankerous old men, takes his time to answer. He’s doing a slow survey of the stand with his eyes and eventually gives the woman a grudging nod. She responds with a loud cheups and opens the door, levering herself into the front seat. Her descent is accompanied by muted squeaks and groans from the car’s chassis, and she pulls the door shut with a clanky thud.

Bending to check his passenger status through the back window, the old man scratches his chin absently and throws a last longing glance between the plethora of passengers still waiting on a drive and the meagre three adults he has in his back seat. He starts the car regardless, and pulls into the flow of traffic.

The car picks its way over the limestone-style landscape on King Street and Green Pond with a series of clunks and scrapes. Stones glance off the metal underbelly of the car with sharp pangs, and the overall effect is not unlike the last rattling breaths of a dying man. From the rear of the vehicle, it sounds as if various essential parts are being picked off and left behind in the stony rubble. Machine doesn’t stand a chance against the unyielding terrain.

The passengers sit grim-faced and unmoving as they bounce with the rhythm of a hill and gully ride. The car’s suspension is so shot to hell that the men who sit at either door can feel every jerk of the car tyre through the peeling upholstery. The car has probably seen better days but that was long before it was slapped with the red plate and Taxi Association insignia – scarlet letters that invite all sorts of abuse. Peeling seats and rickety chassis are the less obvious forms, but there are worse: the door handle that sticks out at a crooked angle, for one.

“It open from di outside,” the driver tells the woman when she tries to jimmy the dismantled latch.

She gives another cheups and reaches her arm through the window to let herself out of the car.

The driver continues to mutter to himself as he drives off and his gravelly voice overlays the out of sync radio that pulses out Zip FM tunes like a sluggish heart beat. They’re a sad accompaniment for the taxi’s lament, but it manages to reach the housing scheme without any fatal stalls. With less groans and grinding now that it’s on firmer ground, the taxi zips its way through the maze of streets and houses, delivering its meagre cargo one by one to their respective destinations.

With one reckless arm dangling from the window (calling to familiar faces, or giving rude gestures when smaddy bad drive ‘im), the old man turns his old faithful automobile in the direction of town so that taxi and driver meander slowly away in a wake of dust and the heartbreaking sound of parts in need of mending.