Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
Green Means Go

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This is how I keep from sneaking wine on a school day: alone in the empty, silent house, I write, write, write. The party's in my head: protagonists in exotic settings expound on profound thoughts; charismatic hell-raisers cause loved ones grief; and over-the-top cocky assholes spout off dialogue I'd never be brave enough to utter, except on the computer screen. The house fades to a hazy, ghostly gone as I type my way to an exhilarating, compelling world sprung from lip-smacking hits of creative juice, as if my mind is on a bender, a careening, drunken binge.

I'm safe after three. I can't drink in front of my kids: baby daughter eleven says, Mom! You aren't allowed any more! and teenaged son eyes me speculatively: Well, if you can get shit-faced trashed, I can go behind the high school and smoke dope and grope girls. Hubby, of course, never drinks during the week, let alone during the day; he's slaving to pay the bills, "And the Harrys," he jokes -- and also to pay for the new treadmill, which we need for our health, since we eat a lot of ground beef on sale.

I was supposed to be at a writers' conference today, but since I couldn't get childcare before and after school, I couldn't go. No big deal, there's always next year, or the one after that, when teenage son can better manage baby daughter, or Hubby gets a break from work. I plant myself in the study, start revising my story draft. My intent is to match the beginning with the end, iron the middle into magic, stick that memorable, opening hook. I've got the required cup of coffee, I'm sure ready to segue to somewhere else, but my mind refuses to travel; I'm Super Glue stuck at my desk. With nothing exciting to look forward to, nobody to show and tell, I'm a blank, empty, writer-in-residence, locked out of fantasyland.

I think about all the chores that are waiting, forever waiting like chains on my wrist while I write. I should give it a rest and clean this place up. Tackle the crappy draft tomorrow, when I'm not so envious of luckier writers gathering together at the beach (the beach!) to discuss fiction and the literary life over fresh seafood and flowing wine. My little white dog jumps into my lap, pine tar clumped in her fur, but her condolence licks don't help me make the beds, or tend the laundry pile.

Say I go to Whole Foods and indulge in one of those expensive, made-to-order lunches: salmon stuffed with crabmeat, sides of green beans and fennel carrots. Say I choose a recommended bottle of pinot noir to accompany my feast, and say I open that pinot noir and drink out of my wedding-gifted Waterford Crystal, pretending I'm at a conference with other imbibing writers, a conference sponsored by a wealthy university (thus the Waterford). Then maybe the creative juices will be replenished, and the story won't squawk, but sing. I've unpacked my bags and cancelled the hotel; don't I deserve a taste of freedom, at the very least?

The other thing, it's raining. Really, really hard. When it rains really, really hard our basement floods. We don't live in New Orleans, we live in Virginia. And yet, it floods. Well, not so much anymore since we installed sump pumps. What a process-- my brain is scarred by images of half-naked, muscular men carrying hunks of cement out of our basement, so trenches could be dug, so the water would drain through new hunks of plastic pipes, instead of seeping into the house (I said hunks too much there: I wonder why). We shouldn't flood today, we have those pipes!

But it doesn't matter: Hubby surprised me at ten to check that the green light was on, indicating the sump pumps were working, and also to snoop around by the furnace, to make sure the sewage line wasn't backing up, like it did once. It's Virginia, but we live in constant terror. I suggested he fuck me; the kids are at school, ooh la la. He looked at me, aghast. Jesus, he said, it's raining, how can you think of sex?

He left me in charge of the green light. Is it any wonder I bring the coveted glass of scarlet drink to my lips? Red. Green. Stop. Go. I escort the bottle to the study, splashing conflict into crystal. I stare at my crappy draft while the house creaks and sighs. I re-read my story, and re-read it again and again and again. What to do, what to do, what to do?

Hoping inspiration will follow action, I seize the yellow highlighter. Paragraph by paragraph, I rip the text apart, marking characters and dialogue, flat! flesh out! I strike unnecessary flashbacks from scenes and eliminate transitions that fall short. I drink more, spill more, nervous at the gate. I'm about to give up, toss the pages in the round file, say adios and sign off, when the powers that be take pity on me and hot flash, eureka, I'm gone: released at the keyboard into my make-believe world.

Write, write, write; the sour grapes are kicked by the time Hubby calls. He wants good news. Don't worry, the basement's fine, the sump pumps are doing their jobs, I mumble into the phone. I'll do mine tonight, he says, voice a randy buzz. But though I catch his meaning, I forget to ooh la la. I'm listening more closely to cocky assholes raising hell, and soberly noting the time, fast approaching three o'clock.

Terri G. Scullen‘s work appears in The Baltimore Review. She is the recipient of a residency fellowship from the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, a special initiative in support of the Virginia Commission for the Arts and their individual artist grants. While her heart is at the beach, she lives in Alexandria, Virginia, with her husband and their 14-year-old son, Jimmy and 10-year-old daughter, Samantha. Readers may drop her a line at

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