Today I’m doing something totally out of my comfort zone: I’m sharing a short story! This is a little piece I wrote for a creative writing class in high school and have been working on ever since. The full story is also available on my Wattpad.
Without further ado, let’s get started!
Magnolia: A Short Story
“Quinoa!” I shouted, pointing at the Panera billboard that boasted some nasty almost-oatmeal mush. Your favorite bowl of nastiness was available at the next exit for just eight dollars. “Quinoa, quinoa, quinoa!”
“Dammit!” he laughed, swatting my hand out of his face and leaving traces of Dorito dust on my wrist. “How did you find a Q?”
I shrugged, licking my wrist clean. “I have good luck. Hand me a Dorito.”
He placed a chip in my open palm and I popped it in my mouth. I’d told Charlie that all of the junk food we’d packed needed to disappear before we crossed the South Carolina-Georgia line. Grandma Maggie wouldn’t appreciate us filling up on fillers before eating whatever home-cooked goodness was perfuming her kitchen. “Okay, next letter: R.”
He groaned, reclining farther into his seat. I could see the tendrils of sleep that drooped from his eyelashes, glinting like spider webs in the pink wash of waking sun. Headlights on the other side of the highway looked like suns against the cotton candy sky. “It’s early.”
I laughed. “Yeah, me too.”
He pried my fingers away from the steering wheel, entwining his hand with mine. “Want me to drive for a little bit?”
“You just told me you were tired.”
He laughed in one short breath. It wasn’t really a laugh, more a quick exhale through his nose followed by a head nod. “Tell me about your family.”
“Yeah. You know, those people we’re about to, I don’t know, spend Christmas with.”
I hesitated. “What about ‘em?”
He shrugged. “I don’t know… start with your parents.”
I smiled. “I’ve already told you about my parents.”
“Okay, then start with your grandparents.”
I sighed. “There’s nothing really extraordinary about them, so I don’t know what you want to know.”
That was true. I hailed from a family of Georgia peaches, girls who have girls who wear pearls and drink sweet tea as they watch the kids run down the gravel road toward the dusty yellow school bus. They send their kids to Marietta Elementary School and Marietta Intermediate School and, you guessed it, Marietta High School. After the whims of high school have past and the kids picked up their graduation caps, they march their daughters straight into the finest academic institution, the University of Georgia, where the daughters spend four years getting their M-r-s Degree and pursuing a useless study in international business with early childhood education on the side. And after the daughters have the ever-important ring and the semi-important diploma, they purchase a quaint bungalow on a fifty-acre lot and spend their days preparing proper barbeques and ironing collars. “They’re kind of… boring.”
“I doubt they’re boring if you came from them.”
I smiled at his compliment. Charlie was too good at flattery for his own good, but I had no problem enjoying it. “I… I don’t know.” I hesitated and waited for him to fill the silence. He didn’t. “They’re just all the same.”
“What do you mean?”
What did I mean? It wasn’t a lie, but it certainly wasn’t the truth. They were all the same species, blonde-haired and green-eyed with Southern drawls like molasses. Their hair was about as big as their personalities, but nowhere nears the sizes of the diamonds on their ring fingers. They were all named after states, trees, or their grandmothers, which often complicated Christmas dinner. What a mess we could get ourselves into, trying to seat two Carolines, three Magnolias, two Roseannas, a June, and a Joanna at a dinner table longer than most houses. “They do all of the same stuff that every generation before us did. It’s tradition and they follow it like it’s the Bible.”
“What kind of stuff?” he asked. He’d stopped playing my fingers, but I hadn’t moved my hand. It draped over his knee and vibrated as the car accelerated.
“Well…” I countered, unsure of where exactly I was going to go with this. What was I supposed to say? Was I supposed to tell him about the unspoken but strictly enforced life path that each child was supposed to follow? Or did I tell him about the old record player sitting on the dining room hutch and the basket of old records that Grammy played when she cooked? Did I mention the way my mother cried when I told her that I wasn’t going to University of Georgia or the times when we sat under the apple tree in the backyard and read books together? What secret should I expose, what slice of my dichotomous childhood would slip out when I cracked open the shell? What if I couldn’t staunch the flow when I had said enough?
“I actually don’t know where to start,” I said, chuckling. The very least I could do was pretend that I had nothing to say.
“Okay…” he said. “Well, start with you. What’s your middle name?”
I turned to gawk at him. What kind of a girlfriend was I to never have shared that detail? It wasn’t even intimate, like if you match your bra and underwear (no) and how many times you’ve done it (once). “Have I never told you my middle name?”
He shrugged. “I guess it never came up.”
Through a taut smile, I said, “Magnolia. It’s Magnolia.”
“Kayla Magnolia Monroe.”
My name hung in the air before I broke the silence. “I feel bad. Ten months and I really never told you my middle name?”
Charlie shrugged. “Don’t feel bad. I bet you don’t even know my middle name.”
I did know his middle name. “Harrison. You were named after your grandpa, right?”
His eyebrows rose to meet the exact place where his brown curls drooped over his forehead. “And you were named after a tree.”
“Well, not really. My great-grandmother’s name was Magnolia and my grandmother’s name is Katherine, but she goes by Kay, so my mom named me Kayla Magnolia after my great-grandmother and grandmother.” There it was: the start of the word vomit. “But, yes, I kind of was named after a tree because we have these huge magnolia trees that line the drive up to Grandma Maggie’s house that she and Poppy planted when they first bought their land.”
He nodded, digesting the information I threw at him. “And Poppy is…”
“My grandpa, but his real name is Earl.”
“Right,” he mumbled as he nodded his head. “What’s the one thing I need to know about your family if I’m going to survive this weekend?”
I knew this answer immediately. “Just… one thing,” I said.
He nodded. “What?”
I sighed. “Don’t tell them you’re a Democrat. They’ll take it personally.”