Perfect Practice Makes Perfect

My voice teacher in college used to say “Perfect practice makes perfect”. She didn’t mean that you have to be perfect in every rehearsal. What she meant was that I should give my whole effort to each rehearsal. I have a writer friend who says something like, “It’s okay to write crap, as long as you keep writing.” What she means by that is that your first efforts may not be a work of art, but if you keep working, it might just become that. What I get out those two sayings is that I must keep working on my writing a little every day. We each need to keep getting up from failure, take the lessons, and try again. When we do that we improve our skills.

I’ve been writing for five years now. One thing I’ve learned is that to improve, I must write often. I can’t say I write everyday. But, I’m thinking about my current project everyday. Today I think it’s time I include a section of my novel. It’s pretty much as I first wrote it, so it won’t be perfect, but I’m excited to share it with you. For some reason, I had trouble with the formatting when I transferred the segment. I hope you enjoy it anyway.

Let me set up the story so you understand what’s going on in this particular scene. There is a storyline and a main character in the present. Her name is Jenna and her life has been shattered in one terrible day. She goes home to her mother’s funeral and decides to stay to rebuild her life. While there she stumbles onto journals that connect her to the main character in the past, Morgan, living part of her life with her. This helps them both in the end. The excerpt I’m posting here takes place in the spring of 1859 on the Oregon Trail.

Overwhelmed, Jenna decided to go back to Morgan’s life. Maybe living with her for a while would give her some room to think. Settling herself on her bed, she picked up the journal she’d been reading. The words blurred and the now familiar feeling of her mind shifting and fitting into Morgan’s consciousness, overtook her. When she opened her eyes, she and Morgan were walking next to a wagon. The sun was high in the sky. Dust devils swirled engulfing the travelers as they walked beside their respective wagons. Mirages of promised, but imaginary water shimmered on the horizon. Morgan was drowsing as she walked, sweat dripping from every part of her body. Jenna winced. She’d never felt so grimy. How could Morgan stand it? The hair was matted to Morgan’s head under her bonnet, and her feet were swollen in her boots. Dust filled her nostrils and clogged every pore. Out of sheer survival, Morgan refused to think of the stench of her unwashed body, or that of the others on the trail. It was a struggle enough to put one foot in front of the other. Looking up the line, she saw that the other women and and older children were shuffling too. Time was reduced to this one unending march. She’d been walking like this forever and it was never going to stop. In her head day dreams of cool water dripping soothingly down her throat and engulfing her naked body kept her going. No birds were singing. The only sound was of the wagon wheels turning endlessly and grasshoppers escaping being trampled. Usually she was careful to watch where she stepped looking for snakes, holes or roots that could trip her. Today, her brain was boiling in her head and she couldn’t think at all.
Up ahead there was a scream and then a commotion of raised voices and calls for help. William, driving the wagon beside Morgan, reigned in the team. Sarah was running forward to the source of the disturbance. A sharp pain struck Morgan in the heart rousing her. Something was terribly wrong. She too, rushed forward. The screaming was coming from the Rosenberg wagon. A crowd of people were gathered near the left wheel. Morgan was near the back of the group, and too short to see what was happening. “My baby, get it off her, “ Mrs. Rosenberg was screaming in German. Chills ran through Morgan’s body. She didn’t need to see the reality of what had happened. Her imagination twisted her stomach in a tight knot. Many of those who had been in the front of the cluster of onlookers were pushing their way through the crowd holding their hands to their mouths, their faces ashen. Mrs. Acres threw up on a man who couldn’t get out of the way fast enough. Many members of the train, even some men were crying. Morgan was shivering with shock.
“Get back,” The Wagon Master shouted. “We’ve got to move the wagon.”
Morgan had already backed away far from the wagon, tears silently running down her face. As the crowd cleared she saw the littlest Rosenberg girl, Elena, standing next to the wagon looking at the front wheel. She was shocked that the adults weren’t pushing her away. She should not be a witness to the horror of one of her siblings crushed under the wagon wheel. The girl turned and looked at Morgan, who gestured for the girl to come to her. Her face was radiant. She was surrounded in a most unusual glow as she walked toward Morgan. She took the little girls hand. “You shouldn’t see such horrible things.”
“It’s not horrible,” the girl said in perfect English with no hint of her German accent.
“It’s one of your siblings. Aren’t you sad?”
“No, it’s not, My brother and sisters are fine. I tried to talk to my mother and father, but they can’t hear me.” Then she looked up at Morgan, her eyes alight with love. “Will you tell them I love them. Thank them for my life and that I’m happy.” Morgan gasped. She opened her mouth to speak, but her mind was a jumble.
“Are you…?”
“Yes, but don’t be sad.”
“Why come to me?”
“Because you can see me. You have the gift. I must go now,” Elena said smiling.

“Do you want me to say hello to your father and mother?” The girl smiled radiantly. “They love you very much.”
Elena’s hand was warm in Morgan’s. Looking down at her she nodded as the girl began to fade. “Yes, tell them I love them.”
“I will, goodbye, Morgan. Thanks for reading such wonderful stories, and for being so kind to me.” Then she laughed, turned and skipped out into the prairie and vanished.
The air shimmered and Morgan felt as if she were caught in a whirlpool. She closed her eyes to stop the spinning in her head. Presently she turned back to the grieving members of the train. Sarah was comforting Mrs. Rosenberg. Mr. Rosenberg, William and the Wagon Master, were wrapping Elena’s body, while other men passed by with shovels. Morgan took in a quick breath and stifled a sob. The three remaining Rosenberg children were standing alone weeping. Daniel, the oldest was holding his two younger sisters. She walked unsteadily to them, putting her arms around them, saying nothing. What could she say. The four of them clung to each other weeping.
Mr. Rosenberg stood, cradling the body of his youngest daughter. He turned into the direction Morgan had seen her spirit disappear. There was a lovely oak tree not far from the trail. It stood alone on the vast prairie, as if it had been waiting to be the marker for such a precious gift. Men from the train, shovels in hand followed Mr. Rosenberg and began digging a grave under the lone tree. Wild flowers spread in a carpet of yellow, blue and lavender from the tree’s base out into the prairie. The entire train moved silently toward the new grave in a long procession. They gathered silently around. Mr. Rosenberg laid the small body in the grave. As he did so, Mrs. Rosenberg’s crying turned into a terrible keening wail. The children sobbed in Morgan’s embrace. There was no Preacher, or Rabbi on the train to say words over Elena’s grave. The men solemnly covered her body with dirt. Some of the women had collected wild flowers and put them on the grave. A man put a hastily carved marker on the mound at Elena’s head. Then Mr. Rosenberg sang a prayer in a language that no one on the train understood. It was a haunting tune in a minor key. As the song began, the breeze stopped as if the earth was paying tribute to this bright, lovely little girl. The only sound was the strangely beautiful song. Everyone bowed their heads. Many wept for the terrible loss of a child, for their own stupidity in shunning the Rosenbergs, because they were different, or for the loss of their own loved ones long gone. The strains of the song sank deep into their souls. They stayed huddled together for quite some time. Then Mr. Rosenberg and each of his children placed a stone on Elena’s grave.
The Wagon Master, usually a hard task master, said nothing of leaving. He’d witnessed this kind of tragedy before and knew that he couldn’t rush the members of the train back to the trail. If he were honest with himself, he didn’t want to go back either. It never got easier, these tragedies. That’s why this was the last train he’d lead. It was time for him to bask in the joys of nature and live out the rest of his life quietly on his little strip of wilderness. He hoped this was the last time he’d have to bury a child.
In time, William asked Mr. Rosenberg if he could say a prayer as well. Mr. Rosenberg agreed and took Sarah’s place holding his wife. The children joined him and the remaining Rosenberg family clung to each other.
William prayed, “God, we don’t understand your ways as well as we could. There must be a reason for this tragedy. We know that you’ve taken Elena to be with you. She was such a delightful, happy child. But, God, we’re left with a big hole in our hearts because she’s gone. Help us see the purpose of the death of one so young. And help us be there for each other in the hard times ahead. Show us our path. Show us our purpose in your plan. Help us never forget Elena Rosenberg and her joy in life. Amen.” The breeze came up again, relieving the heat of the day. The wild flowers ruffled and gave off a lovely scent. In the long moment of silence that stretched out encircling all gathered near the grave, Jenna marveled at William’s prayer. She’d never thought much about God. He was mysterious and hard to understand. To her he was a capricious character like Zeus. It was obvious that William saw him differently. Maybe there was a place where humans and God met. Her scalp tingled. There it was again, that feeling that everything she’d ever known was an illusion.
The members of the train dispersing quietly back to their wagons, broke Jenna out of her reverie. Only Sarah, William, Morgan and the Rosenbergs remained by the grave. Mrs. Rosenberg had stopped her shrill wail. Her face was closed, the light in her eyes completely gone. She was inside herself someplace and didn’t respond to anything outside. The group moved as one back to the wagons. The Wagon Master was on his horse near the Rosenberg wagon.
“Can you drive your wagon, Mr. Rosenberg?”
“Yes.”

“Put Mrs. Rosenberg inside. Mrs. Comstock will you stay with her?”

“Of course.”
“The children can ride with you for the rest of today, Mr. Rosenberg.”
“Thank you.”
William and Mr. Rosenberg helped put Mrs. Rosenberg into the back of the wagon. Sarah climbed up beside her. Morgan and William helped the children climb up to be near their father.
The Wagon Master waited until everyone was back in their place, then called “Wagons Ho”. They began their forward motion again, very slowly at first and with heavy hearts. There were still miles to cover before they would reach their camp for the night.
Morgan walked beside their wagon in silence weeping. Her stomach was clenched in a terrible knot. Why had she taken up this journey? She could be home talking with Emma or helping Mrs. Waller with the baking or the children, instead of facing these hardships every day. For her part, Jenna was just as grief stricken as Morgan. Why had she picked up those journals. Was life nothing but a series of losses? Jenna recognized the rage building in Morgan before she herself was aware of it. She tried to help, but Morgan’s control snapped. Jenna was swept up in Morgan’s fury. They screamed at God. Why did you let Elena die? Why did you let my parents die? Why has my life been shattered? I don’t understand you. You’re supposed to be a loving God. Taking our loved ones, and our dreams away from us isn’t loving, it’s cruel! I’m alone because of you! Everything they looked at had a red glow. Rage filled every cell of their being. At first Morgan wasn’t sure what this new sensation was, she’d never felt so angry before. Strange this should be happening to Morgan, right after Jenna herself had had her own meltdown. Even though she tried to communicate with Morgan’s mind, she couldn’t make herself heard. Just as Morgan’s rage hit it’s height, a cool breeze touched her face. Her rage eased slightly and her vision cleared. The knot in her stomach relaxed and she heard a voice in her head. I accept your anger.
“What,” Morgan asked stunned? So was Jenna. Was she crazy to continue this life hopping bullshit. Who’s talking to us? Morgan felt Jenna’s presence for the first time and answered, “God.”
I accept your anger, the voice repeated. You’ve got to feel your life. Keep feeling, and asking questions. Insights come a little at a time. I’m here with you.

Bewildered, Morgan looked up at the sky. An eagle was gliding on air currents far above her. The breeze rustled through the prairie grasses and wild flowers. She could smell moisture from the river flowing near the string of wagons. she saw them with dual vision, hers and Jenna’s. Life is worth living no matter how long or short, so savor every moment. You’re not alone. All who’ve gone before you are with you. Morgan replied, That’s what father used to say. 

I wish my mother had, Jenna said to Morgan.

All is well, is that what you’re tying to tell us? They asked in unison.

What do you think?

Mrs. McCallister’s baby cried. A few minutes later the crying stopped, he was getting his dinner. The eagle dove and snatched a prairie dog from its hole. The sun, low on the horizon, sent shadows reaching out from everything it touched. They didn’t need to answer. Life was happiness, sorrow, hard work, uncertainty, frustration, joy, learning, love and so many other shades of emotion. They’d have to accept every one. Right now I’m angry, hurt, confused and alone, and that’s okay. We’ll know the reason one day. Morgan said for them both.
It might be okay for Morgan, Jenna wasn’t so sure. She didn’t like uncertainty. Most modern people, didn’t. Her mother had indoctrinated her with the idea that if she worked hard enough she’d be successful one day. Sharing Morgan’s life was making her face, the fact that that idea was a complete fallacy. Now she realized she’d drifted along never defining what success was for her. She’d taken it for granted that the shiny, comfortable, American dream was her dream life. That was washed away in one horrible day. I don’t want these horrible feelings. I want to know where all this is leading. Morgan believed that her life had a purpose and that Elena, and upon occasion, her father were trying to assure her she was headed in the right direction even though she wasn’t quite sure of the outcome. Jenna wanted to know the end of the story first before she took another step.
Thinking back on the events of her day, she realized, it didn’t work that way. The whole surreal thing of sharing Morgan’s life, and… Seeing the spirits of her parents was one thing, but an unknown little girl in the past. That was too weird. Yet, there must be a reason for it all, as Morgan had said. It occurred to her that she could go back to her own time, get rid of the journals, and chuck the whole thing. That thought made her stomach sink. If she did that, she’d always regret it. Her only true choice was to continue learning from Morgan.
After a couple of hours walk, the train reached the planned camping site. It was just before sunset. The chores were done quietly by fire or torch light. Most people were still affected by the tragedy.
The Wagon Master came to their fire. He was an outwardly gruff man with long brown hair streaked with gray. Above his upper lip was a handlebar mustache and on his chin was a long beard, both also streaked with gray. It was obvious he’d been living outdoors for many years. There were deep lines in his face, which was tanned dark brown. He could have passed for an Indian. The clothes he wore were buckskin. There were dark stains on the top of his thighs and sweat stains under his armpits and down his back. Every part of his body was lean, evidence of the hard work he’d done most of his life. Yet, his eyes were bright with deep smile lines at their corners, which told a story of a man who’d squinted into bright sunlight, leading people to a new life. Morgan saw that he’d found peace there.
“Mr. Comstock, I’m hopin’ you’ll do me a favor. The Rosenbergs seem to like you and your wife. You too, Miss Carlyle Would you mind movin’ your place in the train up behind their wagon and keepin’ an eye on ’em. I don’t like the look of Mrs. Rosenberg. I’ve seen this kinda thing before. She might do herself an injury. Miss, if you’d also keep a close eye on the children, that’d ease my mind no end.”
“We’ll be happy to do anything we can, Mr. Fisk,” William replied for them all.
“I knew I could count on you seein’ how you’ve been so kind to ’em. Thanks. We’ll move the wagons in the mornin’. I’ll go tell Mr. Rosenberg to ease his mind. Goodnight.”
“Goodnight.” William turned to Sarah and hugged her close.

Morgan finished putting the dishes in the box so they’d stay clean for breakfast, while William and Sarah held each other and grieved the loss of their own children, Morgan went for her bedroll and laid it out under the wagon. Presently William and Sarah were laying out their bedding in the lean to. There was no music that night, everyone was alone with their thoughts. The crickets and coyote songs were the melancholy music fitting for this night. Morgan wondered if she should tell the Rosenbergs about her encounter with Elena’s spirit. Not yet, came the answer. She turned over thinking that she would not be able to sleep after such tragedy, and her episode of rage. Traces of her anger lingered. It was going to take a long while to understand the meaning of everything that had happened to her recently, if she could ever understand it. As she lay pondering, and drifted off to sleep.

Jenna opened her eyes back in her own room with so much to think over.

I hope you enjoyed this little segment of my novel. I’ll keep writing and as my book goes though many revisions, this scene will undoubtedly change. It’s nice to take a snapshot of where I am now, so I have something to compare with future work.

At the bottom of this post are links to a children’s book I wrote and my husband illustrated many years ago as a present for our oldest nephew Scott. You can also find it at Amazon.com. I wrote it at a time in my life when I felt lost. The story of Scottosaurus The Little Dinosaur, reflects my inner search for home.

Scottosaurus e-book: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/296509

Scottosaurus paperback book: https://www.createspace.com/3410265

 

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