Changes, Part 3
Another change (and more to come) to strengthen my characters.
Amy Elizabeth Conrad, 15
As a teenage male in the 1970s, the hardest part of writing was understanding my female characters. I had plenty of girl cousins to study, but I grew up in a household of six males and one female, which was my mom. Other than her, I had no one of the opposite sex to study at home. I had books like Little Women and Nancy Drew to refer to, but they were dated. It wasn’t until I married and had daughters did I get to observe females up close. And for the most part, they weren’t as different from males than I thought they were. Unlike my mom and my cousins, as well as the March sisters and Nancy Drew, my wife enjoyed roughing it outdoors and watching football. And my daughters played sports and were as competitive as my son and I. The female gender personifications from the pre-1980 literature I had read and the movies and TV shows I’d watched were unrealistic. It was then that Amy Conrad and the other female characters I wrote about came alive.
She strives to excel at music for self-expression; music means everything to her. When she’s down, she recharges by swimming. Free time is spent “jamming” with her band ARC, or “hanging” with friends.
She is gentle, compassionate, kind and charming too. Generally an easygoing person—most of the time, she is slow to anger, but she has a ferocious temper once it is roused.
Strangely (but typical in brother-sister relationships), twin brother Dave—he’s younger by almost ten minutes—seldom resents her. In fact, he “defends her honor” more ferociously than his own. Any potential boyfriends are in for a hard time.
Sometimes, Amy is funnier, more gregarious, and more talented than Dave is, making her stand out and seem like “the favorite child” to their parents. Often, she is sweetness and light to everyone else, but the Devil to Dave.
Dave, who is the musically untalented child, resents the admiration Amy receives, and views it as favoritism. And Amy views Dave’s accolades in football, baseball and other sports as favoritism. Cue sibling rivalry, and lots of it.
Beyond the Music (A short story featuring Amy)
Amy Conrad hefted her black acoustic guitar over a shoulder and started down the knoll of her backyard, pushing through a tangle of waist-high weeds and into timberland surrounding Myers Mansion. The old Victorian house sat vacant and ignored behind its rusty gates, invisible to anyone passing by on Ridge Road’s country blacktop. It was the perfect place for Amy to be alone and work on her music.
The overcast daylight barely penetrated the thicket that swallowed her from view. Inside, ivy ran wild everywhere, choking life from the trees and gripping the house’s exterior walls in a death hold.
Amy made her way across a rear porch of spongy boards and through a doorway that no longer held a door. She lit several scented candles inside the largest room downstairs—a musty sitting room with run-down walls of yellowed and peeling wallpaper. She swept a straw broom across the warped and rotted floor and pushed empty beer cans and cigarette butts into a pile near a window of mold encrusted red drapes. Someone had lost a ten-dollar bill there. It was probably Craig Dunn or one of his brainless toadies who sometimes used the place on Saturday nights to get drunk and high at and have sex with underage sluts.
The police had raided the place many times over the past five years. Here was proof that Dunn and his toadies weren’t going to stop. She pocketed the bill and continued sweeping.
Once the broom was propped again in the corner, she took up her guitar and sat on a wood ottoman—the only piece of intact furniture. She flipped away a strand of her long blonde hair and whispered lyrics while she lightly fingered the steel strings and turned their quiesced sounds into song.
For almost ten minutes, she concentrated on chords and words before she set the guitar aside and went to the cobwebby bookcase with ancient, mold-encrusted books. She dared not touch the books as she got on her hands and knees and fetched her portable DVD player from underneath the bookcase. With a press of the PLAY button, the player started up. Her favorite movie, Go, Johnny Go! still in the machine, came on, so she returned to the ottoman and watched the dim flickering of social differences play to the scores of many dead composers. Soon, she drifted on the music, playing it loud to keep her mind from settling on her usual isle of loneliness, put there because no one her age, it seemed, shared her interest in 1950s and ’60s jump blues, rock-n-roll, and hopped-up country.
Sure, she had a brother, cousins, and friends who talked about and got excited over the rapping remakes of some of those old songs, but no one wanted to listen to the raw energy of the original recordings. And for that reason, she existed alone on Myers Ridge in the rural small-town of twenty-first century Ridgewood, Pennsylvania.
Well, not truly alone. Myers Mansion—named after the long ago playwright who had built it one summer ninety years ago—had managed to keep some of its ghosts. Others had come from town and places nearby, attracted to the old mansion’s size and neglect. They watched and conversed from the shadows of the house, though Amy did not see or hear them. She did not believe in ghosts. Only music.
At the same time, Craig Dunn drove his black Triumph motorcycle across the weeds of what he believed was the driveway of Myers Mansion. He pushed his heavy body from the bike and fought gravity to maintain his balance. Day had become night inside the thicket of trees, and he managed to hold onto the six-pack of Budweiser as he stumbled over roots and branches toward the house. He managed a firm grasp of the beer when he squeezed through the gate’s doorway where a fallen heavy limb kept the door from opening far. But when he headed along the footpath through brambles on the left side of the house, he dropped his favorite beverage three times.
The leaves above him hissed from the treetops swaying in the breeze, as if disapproving his decision to come here.
“I’ll do what I damn well please,” he told them. And although the leaves kept hissing, he felt better for telling them off.
A raindrop smacked him on top of the head. He looked up as the sky jarred him with a deafening boom of thunder. Icy rain crashed through the tree branches and slammed against his face. He held onto his beer and managed to stay upright, staggering backward several steps as though an invisible wrestler tried bringing him to his knees.
He tucked his beer under his jean jacket as faded and worn as his jean shirt and pants and brown leather boots. By the time he reached the same door that Amy had entered, he stepped into a hole in the floor but managed to keep his boot from going all the way through it. With an awkward skip, he stayed upright and cursed the rain and house.
He started toward the kitchen where he had stashed his marijuana three nights ago, then turned around and followed the tinny sound of guitar music to the old living room. He stopped as he entered.
“Um … Hi.” He brought an arm to his brow. Her eyes were like cloudless summer skies, so bright in the candlelight that he was glad he wasn’t colorblind like his old man. “Um … I didn’t know you would be here during the daytime.”
She reached out to him, her arms open and inviting like invisible pulleys attached to his heart. He dropped his beer and hurried to her, pressing his body against hers, feeling her strength and hating how soft and weak he’d become.
She moved her head to look at him. He kissed her hard on the lips, not letting her see the lust pushing away the fear in his eyes.
His breath was heavy and ragged around her mouth; his battered hands explored every inch of her. Her heat drove him to the edge. A swing of her hips pushed him over it.
He fell like before, wrapped in the clutches of what she was. Her fire would become ice now. She would want him to stay with her forever.
He untangled his arms and legs from hers and ran from her and the house’
Inside, Amy awoke from her nap when Craig brought his motorcycle’s engine to a roaring start. As he accelerated into the rain and onto the country road, she lifted her head from the ottoman, looked around from where she sat on the floor, and wondered where the six-pack of beer had come from.
She did not see the ghost girl who stood over the beer, watching the door and waiting for her lover to return.