I am home sick and have to sit upright because of congestion, so I write. I would rather do this than watch television while I cough and try and heal.
I am offering up a copy of my latest entry to Pipeline Script contest. The deadline was today so I just made it in. I encourage everyone who wants to take a chance on writing to enter contests. Some will offer feedback that will help you revise and improve your efforts on other projects if you can take constructive criticism. I include this email I got after entry to show others a little about what to expect, and offer the name so you can investigate the contests offered throughout the year.
Thanks for entering the 2016 Book Pipeline Competition, presented by Script Pipeline.
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Script Pipeline Admission Sherry G. Traylor
Description of Work and Characters
Unhinged is a young adult novel written about 12-year-old Vernelle Friendly Walker, her two younger sisters, Roz and Gigi, and their mother Esther. Vernelle is convinced her mother is crazy because she constantly talks of being a dancer when she can’t walk in a circle without falling down.
Vernelle describes their existence as gypsies because her single mom seldom stays in one place more than six months. Nell and her sisters have visited most of the 50 states by viewing them from the back seat of an old Dodge Dart named Barabbas.
Vernelle has dreams of living in a real home where she doesn’t have to be her sister’s babysitter any more. She narrates their story from her diary where she describes her life experiences with a dark sarcastic wit. Her normal abnormal life is about to change as her mother has decided to pursuit her dreams of being an entertainer without her daughters. Vernelle is about to find herself in a permanent home that may be too stable and requiring a little too much discipline. Vernelle discovers secrets about her mother that changes her understanding of who she is and what her future holds.
This story would transfer easily into a television pilot, Netflix movie or mini-series, or a motion picture. It would fit the genre of a family comedy with the voice of the main character holding the narrative of this story somewhat compared to Laura Ingalls leading in each episode if she had an extraordinarily dysfunctional mother, an unstable life, and was a girl with a sarcastic wit. The subject of homelessness, single motherhood, and transient families make this story common to a large audience in America today.
By S.G. Traylor
Copyright © 2016 by Sherry G. Traylor
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written per-mission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.
Publisher’s Note: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are a product of the author’s imagination. Locales and public names are sometimes used for atmospheric purposes. Any resemblance to actual people, living or dead, or to businesses, companies, events, institutions, or locales is completely coincidental.
Birmingham / Sherry G. Traylor — First Edition
Printed in the United States of America
For all those of us who never really grew up and for those who do a good job pretending you did.
Chapter 1: Gypsies
I have no doubt that my mother is nuts. What woman other than one with loose screws would name their first baby Vernelle Friendly Walker?
She even named our old Dodge Dart Barabbas and told us he was always dirty to hide his scars, whatever that means. She was given the name Esther Graceful Walker and was born in Cedar Vale, Kansas to a German Baptist preacher. She was on her own at fifteen when she got pregnant with me and ran away from home. She had no choice, as her father was so embarrassed by her that he made it impossible to stay. Now I am twelve and I can’t imagine ever being pregnant, much less knowing my dad.
I am sitting on a creaking bed in another shabby low-price motel staring down at a yellow-brown stained carpet while mom works as a waitress at a no-name cafe.
I am not alone in my mom’s gypsy world as my sisters also have weird names. My sister who is ten is Rosalyn Bountiful Tobin. Georgiana Kitty Johns is my seven-year-old sister’s name. They suffer just like I do with names that require nicknames so we aren’t laughed at. I go by Nel, then Roz and Gigi. I call my mom Esther, because I am sure that she can’t be my mother because she is too weird.
When other girls dream, they are being chased by monsters, lost in the woods, or are crowned a queen. In my dreams, I have my own room and bed, an address, and a mother who cooks and cleans and does not need looking after. This week we are at The Country Inn near Lake Charles, Louisiana. The town name is Davenport, and we are staying in one of the motel rooms free as mom works at their cafe nights and cleans rooms on the weekend.
I write in my journal every night just as I am now in case I ever need proof of my mom’s insanity or if they find us dead from boredom in a seedy hotel room. I am convinced that something in Esther’s childhood unhinged her. She cannot be trusted with children–well just consider our names. She calls me Nellie, which I hate! I always correct her and she still does it. That is partly why I call her Esther. She doesn’t like that either.
She has blond hair and blue eyes like Gigi, with a decent shape for a mom. Roz has curly hair and has pretty skin like Esther. Mom dresses in very tight clothes for her jobs. She says it is to get tips, but she brings home new boyfriends she meets at her jobs too. She has a long row of boy-men with scruffy faces and work boots; the kind of guys that don’t last any longer than our addresses. On those weekends she gets good tips, we have a great week to follow. We have our rent paid, eat good, and sometimes we go shopping for clothes or necessaries.
I don’t look good in the same clothes as the girls and mom. I am boy-skinny, tall, and have dark skin, eyes and hair. I look like I’m adopted. Esther says I look like my father. Whatever. I don’t know him and never saw a picture. My hair is dark brown, curly, and if I don’t brush it, it gets stringy looking. So most times I just keep it in a ponytail. I am kinda a tomboy in looks but boys don’t like to read or write like I do. I would rather be alone, sitting in a tree, or just writing in my journal than doing anything else.
By my age I should be in sixth grade or maybe fifth. I don’t know cause I have been in three schools this year. I spent about a month not in school because we weren’t in that town long enough for me to enroll. I am good in reading, writing, and in biology (because I like to dissect things) but nothing else.
Esther kind of thinks school is a waste of time for girls. She didn’t finish high school and she says that she gets on fine. But seeing how we don’t have a house, own anything of any value, or even have a cell phone, television, or clock between us…I think an education might be a step up. I try to get to school if Esther forgets to enroll us. I have walked the girls and myself for miles to get to a school so we can learn something. Most people are helpful to kids, but a couple cops tried to arrest me as a runaway before. Then I tell them where my mom works and some of my story and they feel sorry for me and let me go.
I spend a lot of time at libraries. Since I have to babysit the girls while Esther works, I walk them to a library if we are close enough. That way we at least learn something.
Chapter 2: Davenport
It’s only our second day in Davenport and my second day writing in this journal. It is only a one-subject notebook I found for a quarter at Goodwill, but it will do. My pens are always hotel pens. I have a stack of them from all kinds of motels. Some of the hotel pens have very little ink and don’t last very long. Best Western has the best pens, so I always keep those when we leave.
Mom worked her first day in the kitchen last night right after we got here. She had to clean the grease trap and mop the floors in the diner. She didn’t get in until about 1 am and woke me up when she jumped onto the bed smelling of grease. I am up early since I got shoved out of our two double beds by Esther’s snoring and the girls kicking and rolling like tornadoes in bed. So I am on the stuffed chair with my legs dangling over an arm and a pillow behind my head writing about our lives.
I nearly fell off the chair when the phone rang. It was Ms. Neffler, the owner’s wife asking for Esther. I asked if I could give her a message. She told me that room 12 in the motel needed cleaned, sheets changed, and all the cleaning stuff was in the room. She said to leave the dirty sheets and towels in the bathroom floor and she would pick them up at noon and do them. There would be $20 in the room in an envelope for us after the work was done.
I tried to wake Esther but she was passed out. Instead, I saw Roz was awake and asked her if she wanted to go with me to do something. She agreed, dressed quietly, and we snuck out of the room.
Roz complained that she was hungry, so I pulled a lint-covered dollar from my pants pocket that had been there for a while. My emergency dollar was from errands I did at the last hotel we were at. I took out the trash in the lobby for a week to get two dollars. I used one of those to buy SpongeBob toothpaste at the Dollar Store for the girls.
We went into the diner and a pretty waitress with a name tag “Lou” asked us what we wanted.
“Do you have any day old donuts you can sell us cheap?” I put the dollar on the counter and she smiled.
“I think we can manage something.” She came back with a plate of two big chocolate donuts and two glasses of milk.
I thought Roz was going to choke she ate so fast.
“Slow down Roz, you may have to wait til supper to eat again!” I scolded her.
The waitress looked sad at us and she disappeared into the kitchen. She came back to the counter with a white lunch sack and handed it to me.
“My treat. Make sure you share with the others.” She had already heard about us from my mom I was guessing. Esther had a way of making everyone think we were so bad off that we were starving to death. Although we had very little stuff, we never really went a day without something to eat. To me, that wasn’t bad compared with kids in Africa.
“Thanks!” I smiled as we finished our milk and hopped off the bar stools to head to room 12.
“What are we doing Nel?” Roz asked.
“We are going to clean a room for mom.” I said.
“Oh. Is she coming?” Roz asked.
“No Roz, it’s a surprise. We are going to let her sleep and then after we clean the room, we will give her and Gigi these donuts.” I said as we walked.
“Oh!” She seemed a little disappointed.
As we got to room 12 of the long row of rooms, the old blue drapes were drawn back and the door was cracked open. The number 12 was hand painted black on the green door. The paint on the motel and on the doors was cracked and peeling. The roof sagged a little but at least our room didn’t have this noisy of an air conditioner. It rattled like it would get up and walk away any minute. The room smelled dank and smoky.
“Okay Roz, you grab this vacuum and start running it over all the floor. I will go to the bathroom and clean it.” I said.
There was a small box with cleaning spray and rags, a new roll of toilet paper, a duster and dusting spray, and a stack of clean sheets next to the box on the chair. I took the box into the bathroom that was surprisingly clean already. There was one wet towel on the floor. I threw the towel out of the bathroom onto the floor and began spraying everything down before grabbing the rag. Then I left my shoes outside the bathroom and climbed into the bathtub in my bare feet. I scrubbed the walls and the tub good. The sink was barely dirty and quick to clean. After I rinsed everything with water, I used a new rag and with the spray I cleaned the floor on my hands and knees like I saw Esther do a bunch of times. This erased my dirty feet marks I had left on the tile as I worked my way backwards out the door. I stood and looked at my work and started sneezing from the spray.
Roz had finished the vacuuming and was pulling on the covers to get them off. I folded the comforter and put it on the chair with the pillow. I helped and in minutes we were done. Putting the sheets on was easy but the pillows were a little too big for the cases. We beat them into the pillowcases and covered them up with the blanket. We managed to get done in only 30 minutes according to the digital motel clock on the table. I took the envelope with Esther’s name on it and pulled out the twenty-dollar bill.
“Wow! Cool.” Roz was excited even though I knew the money would go for food.
“Let’s get the donuts back to the room.” I said. It had been an hour since we left.
As we got near room 24 at the end of the property, I heard Esther cursing. I opened the door and she was pacing around the room and Gigi was on the floor playing with her dolls. “Where have you been?” Esther stood with her hands on her hips.
“Mama we cleaned a room and got 20 bucks!” Roz waived the envelope in her face and she grabbed it away from her.
“Oh did you?” Esther seemed a little less angry.
“Here’s breakfast.” I handed her the bag, walked past her and went into the bathroom to soak in the tub. It only took Esther a few minutes to knock on the door.
“Nellie honey, thanks for doing that but always let me know when you are leaving, okay?” She said.
“I tried but you were passed out and Ms. Neffler wanted it done right away.” I said.
“Well…leave me a note then.” She said.
Day two ended with her working all evening again and me babysitting…again.
Chapter 3: My Family
Esther was the only child of Tom and Eve Walker who lived in Cedar Vale, Kansas. Apparently, they lived outside of Wichita somewhere. Esther only said not so nice things about her father and little about her mom. She only mentioned her father when she was mad and yelling at me about something. It always ended with “if my father were here he would…”
I wonder as I sit here on a stool outside room 24, what the weather was like in Kansas. I am up early again, waiting on the others to get it together. It is Saturday and we are supposed to go to town to get stuff today. Lou at the diner said it is hot for late May. I went there a little bit ago for cold milk. It only cost me 25 cents for the glass that I drank down quick. I know that Lou just paid for it herself but I still gave her the quarter. I found the quarter when I was cleaning the room yesterday and stuck it in my pocket. I heard the “brothers keeper” sermon from my mom last night when she got home because the girls were still in their clothes. Whenever she was mad, she preached much like I imagine her dad did to her growing up.
Neither one of the girls wanted to take a bath and had no clean clothes so I guess that was my fault. She said we would get the clothes washed up today at the 50 cent Laundromat in town. It was an excuse to go to town for her cause I would be the one doing laundry. Esther was bad at laundry. The clothes were never clean, smelled sour, or not dry enough when she did them. She left a load of clothes in a washer once and decided not to go back after them because she was tired. I couldn’t believe it.
She gave me the thirty dollars she made the last few days to hold for her because she knew she would spend it. She still had the twenty I gave her for room cleaning though. I hoped it would go for meals today and tomorrow and not for junk. By the time the girls and her were ready it was nearly eleven in the morning. What a waste of day!
I bet my grandparents had been up for hours in Kansas by now. Mom said they had animals and several acres of land with cows when she was a kid. She said they were a few miles outside of the main town that had a gas station, a general store, a post office and a barbershop. She hadn’t been back there for years, or at least since I was a baby. They never saw Roz or Gigi. I wondered if they wanted to see us.
We all piled in Barabbas and headed to town. Davenport was a joke really. It was a little more than a dirt street with five or six buildings. There were about ten people wondering around and going in and out of places. We went into a five and dime store. Before we left the motel mom made us put on our dirty clothes and smudge our faces. She often did that before we went into a store. She told us not to look too happy and not to ask her for anything.
By the time we left that general store, we had free ice cream cones, a stick of hard candy, a toy whistle for Gigi and Roz got a new pencil for her sketches. Esther was never ashamed of taking free things cause she said it made others feel good to give us stuff we otherwise couldn’t afford to get. I knew it was just what she learned to do to survive when she was fifteen and on her own.
Next we went to the laundry where we washed all of our laundry up. Well, I did it while Esther and the girls played hand games. Gigi went around gathering up lint from the dryers and said she was going to make it into string and weave it into a warm blanket or a hat. She was a typical seven year old, making up stories. When the first load was dry, we all went into the bathroom and changed into the clean clothes and then washed the clothes we had on that stunk. It took two hours to get it all done and I was pooped.
We were back at the motel by supper with a bag of clearance foods free from the grocery store manager and a six-pack of pop that we usually didn’t get. Our little frig in the motel could only hold the sandwiches and one can of pop so the other cans stayed on the top of the frig. I put away our clothes in the cheap broken dresser where our of black trash bag luggage is also stored.
When it was time for Esther to leave for work, I was again assigned to babysit with instructions for the girls to get good bathes and fresh underwear we had just washed up that day. Day three of same old same old.
Chapter 4: Summer Travels
After Esther had a few rotten tip days and got tired of the boredom of the “po-dunk” town, we were on the road again north. Roz is getting on my nerves lately. She has started whining continuously about every little thing. She hates riding, she hates our snacks, she hates our car, she hates her clothes, and she hates the noise our car makes when we stop. Then she dramas up her complaints with, “I want to die.”
So today, after being in the car listening to this for hours I said, “Roz, I swear if you don’t shut up, I am going to grant that wish!”
She was quiet the next four hours but refused to look at me. No big deal. Gigi and I played I spy and the license plate game for the next few hours.
Esther says our car has character because it was first thing she ever bought herself. She bought it before she even got a license to drive. She said she only paid $200 for it and worked for that cleaning out a poop filled barn for a farmer. It was parked outside the farm for sale and she knocked on his door to buy it without a penny in her pocket. She was only 15 years old. She said she slept in that poop smelly barn for a week and the lady living there gave her two meals a day while she stayed. Her parents were used to her disappearing for days so they didn’t look for her. She drove the car away 8 days later on gas she has siphoned from their tractor.
The Dodge Dart has dull vinyl brown seats, rips and cracks in the seams, and a roof liner that sags. The outside is covered in dents from hail, and has a scratch down one side from the front to the back. It made squeaks like a mouse as the engine ran and when we slow down it squeals like a cat screaming.
Roz told Esther once that our car is broken and we need a new one. Esther said that just because our friends get old and ugly, we don’t get rid of them.
We were on our way to Tennessee for a new job that Esther heard about at the diner. It was a new dinner theatre opening.
Esther thinks she was meant to be a dancer. She was always dancing around the rooms we stayed in, jumping and kicking her legs high. I think she’s nuts. If she ever becomes a real dancer I will be a lion tamer.
Chapter 5: Parents
This is such a long boring trip that I have been writing in my journal for an hour. Gigi is sleeping so I have to do something quiet. Gigi was the only kid of us who knew her dad. We were in Washington State eight years ago when Roz was two and I was four. That’s when Esther met George, a cook in a seafood shack. She waitressed there. (I don’t know if that is a word by I like it.) If Esther flirted with the manager, we skipped a month of rent since we lived upstairs in the attic turned apartment. We smelled like fish all the time.
When George Johns asked Esther out on a date, I remember him as a pretty normal person. Roz was around two then and we got stuck with the owner’s mother to watch us when Esther and George went on a date. Beatrice smelled like men’s cologne and menthol like you smell in muscle creams, all the time. She had missing teeth and a wig that would hang off crooked most of the time. She gave us chocolate and set us in front of the television until mom came home. I guess with me, I always remember smells first because each place we go has such loud smells.
Esther liked George a lot. He was older, had grey hair and a big belly from tasting his food. He was nice to us and even asked Esther to marry him when she got pregnant. I think that’s why we left. They broke up several times and we stayed in motels but they made up and we would go back to his apartment. We lived with George until Gigi was two. George wanted to get married. Esther didn’t want to marry any man she said. She said they would try and boss her and she had enough of that from her dad growing up. We packed up and left one morning after George went down to open the restaurant. Mom threw all our stuff in black trash bags and we loaded up our car and were out of there in less than an hour.
It was on that trip; from Washington to I don’t know where, that Roz had a serious accident. We were driving along and Roz was jumping around the car like usual. She never would sit still in the car and was so flexible that no belt could hold her down. A truck pulled out in front of us and Esther swerved the car into a ditch. Roz was thrown into the front seat from the back and hit her head on the dash. She had a bloody nose and was knocked out.
She had a headache for days. We didn’t have any money or insurance to go to the hospital, so we stayed at a motel and put ice on her head and neck and gave her Aspirin. She slept a lot. When she felt better, she had a lisp and sometimes messed up her words in sentences.
Ever since then Roz draws a lot and is quieter since she has a funny lisp when she talks. She won’t talk at all to strangers.
Esther says that Roz got the devil knocked out of her by God for not minding, but then my mom is the one who can’t follow rules. As I write this she is chattering about being a dancer in this show in Tennessee. She doesn’t even know if she has a job yet and she thinks she is going to be famous. I just roll my eyes and ignore her.
She has two left feet and falls down walking across the room. Even when she dances in the room to music she is clumsy. She spills stuff on people when she brings them food, and once she dumped a piece of blueberry pie on a man in a suit. She acted like it was his fault.
“After all, who wears a white shirt and orders blueberry pie?” She said.
Another look into the mind of my mother Esther Graceful Walker. She really doesn’t have a clue and here we sit inside a car ready for the junk heap driven by a woman with no license, no insurance, no money, and no grasp on reality.