Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Using Personal Disasters in Your Novel: The Lost Finger Nail

Funny things happen all the time. Sometimes, what seems disastrous at the onset is funny in hindsight. Case in point: a few months ago, I helped serve a luncheon to about thirty “silver sisters” (an over eighty crowd). While pouring water cups, I noticed I had lost a fake fingernail. Horrified, I peered into all the cups of ice water I’d just poured. Not seeing my nail, I returned to the pasta salad. I couldn’t find it there, either. I spent the entire luncheon in fear that any moment a little old lady would bite down on my nail and dislodge her dentures, or worse, choke on it.

After the luncheon while we were cleaning up, a friend and fellow volunteer found my nail in the box of our cleaning supplies. Everyone laughed, but I tucked the experience away knowing it would make a great scene in a novel. (I also went home and removed the nails, vowing to never wear them again---at least not when I’m preparing food.)

An excerpt from Menagerie:

Declan watched Lizbet walk away wishing he could go with her. He went through the motions of setting up tables, chairs, spreading the white linen table cloths, and placing the flower arrangements as directed, but his thoughts kept wandering back to Lizbet.
Was he so into her because he couldn’t have her? She refused to take him seriously because she thought they could still be siblings, despite his father’s patent denial. A few weeks he would have eaten his shirt just to have Nicole smile at him and now that he and Nicole were both going to Duke—and Jason was not—he wasn’t interested in Nicole anymore.
Was it possible that he only wanted what he couldn’t have? What did this say about him? Declan ran a finger around his shirt collar. He wasn’t used to wearing a tie and he didn’t like it. It reminded him too much of a noose.
Someone in the catering van yelped.
“What is it now?” Mr. Croft barked from behind the bar. The goblets jiggled as he bobbed up and hit his head against the shelving.
“Nothing,” Missy said in a trembling voice that clearly said something was wrong. She stuck her head out of the van and waved Declan over as soon as Mr. Croft ducked back behind the bar again.
Declan tried to casually stroll across the astro turf. He climbed into the van where Missy shook with distress. He liked Missy and he knew she was a talented cook. Everything she made not only tasted like it heaven but also looked like a work of art.
“What’s the matter?” he whispered.
“My nail,” she whimpered.
“Your what?”
“My nail!” She held out her hand, showing him her four long creamy fingernails embellished with daisies. One finger had a stubby plain old fleshy looking nail. “My nail fell off. It’s somewhere in here.” She looked ready to cry.
“By in here, you mean in the van?”
“Scary scenario—in the food.”
Declan studied the platter of fresh shrimp and poked at it with his fork. Then he went to the pasta salad. Both dishes seemed like the perfect hiding place for a fake fingernail.
“What are we going to do?” Missy asked.
Declan thought about pointing out that since he had all of his fingernails intact, “we” wasn’t the real pronoun she was looking for, but he just shrugged. “I guess we wait for someone to bite down on it and hope no one chokes.”
“Missy! Declan!” Mr. Croft barked.
“I’m so fired,” Missy moaned.
Declan patted her back. “Maybe it fell off before you got here.”
Missy shook her head. “No. I know they were all here when I put on my apron. I would have noticed when I moved my ring.”
Declan knew it was a standard practice for the married caterers to move their wedding rings to their right hands. It helped them get bigger tips.
“Missy! Declan!” Mr. Croft repeated. “What are you doing? It’s time to get this show on the road!”
“Don’t tell anyone, okay?” Missy whispered.
Declan nodded.
“I’m so fired,” Missy groaned, exiting the van.
Small, slimy, and green, the tree frogs dropped from tent poles and landed on the bar.
“What the—hey!” The bartender used his white towel to swat at the jumping frogs.
A lady in a white sundress screamed when she opened her purse and a mouse climbed out.
A wren flew beneath the tent and beat his wings against the canopy, making the sound of jungle drums.
Declan watched his mom frantically totter from one end of the hospitality tent to the other in her three-inch heels as she waved a napkin in the air and shouted, “Shoo!”
A black and white spotted goat darted inside, jumped onto a table and began wolfing down an overweight bald man’s steak. “Hey!” the man cried, pushing the goat to the floor.
The goat let out a bleat that sounded like a laugh before bounding onto another table and scarfing a bleached-blond woman’s chicken breast. The woman screamed and backed away, taking down chairs in her hurry to distance herself from the creature eating her lunch.
Declan watched, his mouth dropping with amazement as squirrels, mice, and rats scampered across tables, ran over chairs, and scaled the tent poles. Throughout it all, Lizbet’s giant marmalade cat sat in the corner watching. Declan swore it looked as if it were grinning. But that wasn’t possible. Cats couldn’t grin.
If Lizbet’s cat was here, did that mean Lizbet was, too? He scanned the room, taking in the chaos, the screaming women, the flustered men, the cavorting animals. It seemed almost staged. Choreographed. Intentional.
But that was impossible.
He’d heard of lion tamers, of course, but no one he knew of trained frogs, or squirrels, or goats…and was that an opossum waddling across the Astro Turf?
A lady in a sapphire-colored sheath began to scream. She fished a finger into her mouth and pulled out an object seconds before fainting.
“What’s going on?” Missy whispered as she climbed from the back of the van.
“I think Mrs. Dutton found your fingernail,” Declan whispered back.


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