“Oh, is that soup?” Zou’s father asked, having softly padded in his slippered fashion into the kitchen. He was wearing his robe, the grey one her mother hated, and his glasses were contemplating a dive off his nose. A well-worn book was in his right hand, and his left was already plunging into the pot. “Mmm, tomato!” he declared, as if it were a new species of soup he had just discovered. “Mind if I join you, Petals?”
The past two days have been good ones for writing. On Sunday the 3rd, I wrote 9 pages for Perse, and this morning, I completed 2 and 1/2 new pages for After Earth (a page in novel-world has a greater gravity than a page in play-world, but it may also be that my novel writing is naturally more slowly paced as it’s a new medium).
The passage above is from After Earth. We’ve just met Zou’s brother Liam and his best friend Curt, who are occupied playing video games, and this is our introduction to Zou’s father. I’m hoping to present a family utterly incapable of dealing with what’s happening to Zou, while at the same time being nuanced human beings. She needs to be justifiably propelled into her actions at the end of this chapter, but I also need to lay the ground work for the complex relationships that will evolve between Zou and her parents in later books.
The scenes from Perse track Perse’s crushing disappointment when her mother backs out on her promise to fund her daughter’s music video aspirations. The violence Perse feels towards her mother, and the way her tutor Melinda redirects that energy, culminate in a charged, intimate sharing of a cigarette between our 13 year old and her 30+ year old tutor:
MELINDA: But we walked outside into their garden, and together, we smoked that cigarette, not saying much, just smoking and listening to all the things chirping and singing and croaking in the flowers and trees. Have you ever had one of those moments that is so alive, so intensely real, that it hurts, literally in your chest, pain, like all the days before this where you thought you were alive but realize now were nothing, you breathe the ash of those days in and it burns your lungs, it hurts, but it’s good, it hurts, but oh. Have you ever felt that?
I’m now up to page 24 in Perse, and the next 24 pages will be the hardest. If I can push through the early middle, I can usually build up a momentum that will carry the play through to completion. But this is the page count where plays go to die, so I hope to stay focused and productive on the play, even while fighting the urge to focus entirely on After Earth.
Speaking of, here’s a moment for Zou that I love (and an introduction of a character that will be very important):
Zou fell further into the rhythm of washing when a sound from outside made her turn. A strange cat was in their backyard, and its eyes caught her breath. One was deep blue, the other pale green, and there was an intelligence behind them that went beyond the natural cleverness of the animal.
“Would you stop jumping on him while he’s yellow?” The cat, as if hearing Curt’s fury, raced into trees, so quickly she thought she saw two tails. Zou shook off the strangeness of the moment, turning back to her dishes, when she caught sight of herself in the mirror on the side of the refrigerator.
It was a small mirror, one her mother used to check her teeth or lipstick (her father never checked anything). Zou saw herself as if for the first time – her dark skin (no freckles), her zebra braids, her red eyes (she’d been crying without knowing). In that moment, it struck her as absolutely strange that she should have any reflection at all; she felt unreal, weightless, like the mirror should look right through her. But there she was, wet-cheeked, staring back.