The Reluctant Writer: Something Else to do When I Should Be Writing

April 4, 2009

Flash Fiction — Releasing Raylene

I was recently honored to be the inaugural winner for fiction in the South Carolina Writers’ Workshop Quill Contest.  I submitted a short, short piece — typically termed “flash fiction” and was awarded a small but thoughtful prize.  It was a fun little piece that, like Dobie, another flash fiction winner in a Women on Writing contest sponsored by WW Norton, seemed to flow fairly effortlessly — very much the way you might tell a story or share an anecdote.  The lightness of this piece is a bit of a departure for me and, since it’s short, I thought my astute readers my get a kick out of it.  Here is Releasing Raylene.

Releasing Raylene

By Cynthia Boiter

 

The idea that anything Lula said could be something other than a hoot had never crossed Raylene’s mind.  She loved going to the little mill village beauty shop for the banter and the foolishness as much as she did for the attention Lula gave to the top of her head.  She had tried to convince herself that the conceit of an occasional shampoo and set was something she did more for her husband than for herself.  But when Dewey got the call from the Lord to become the associate pastor of the Church of the Beloved Body of Christ the same week that a Saturday morning slot opened miraculously at Lula’s shop, Raylene was convinced it was the Lord’s will her hair be pretty.  So she booked herself in perpetuity.  In some ways she did it for Dewey; in others, she did it for the Lord.

            Lula had a knack for working people up.  She would read a story about a half baby – half alien in The National Enquirer, or see a segment on 60 Minutes about a campground full of bigamists, then relay a portion of the information she had learned to the women in her shop, embellishing the parts she could not recall.  Raylene would hear snippets of Lula’s latest broadcast in line at the A & P, or catch a familiar phrase before the chatter died down in Sunday school, and know what was on everyone’s mind.  Always on her best behavior, Raylene rarely took part in any discourse that teetered near the theatric.  Even as a grown woman, there was enough little lady in her to know when to best look at her feet and smile.   

But on the rare morning when business at the shop was slow, or if Lula wasn’t feeling hoarse from a hard week’s work, she would occasionally engage Raylene as her private audience.  No stranger to the shortfalls of humanity, Lula could be counted on to apply pristine judgment to the workings of the world.  It was with this prudence that she introduced Raylene to the concept of the women’s libber.

            “Right there in the road with both Bert Parks and God looking on,” Lula rasped, her voice hardly a whisper but the certainty of scandal in her eyes.  “Hairspray, curlers, make-up, what have you, right into a fifty-five gallon drum.  Some even threw in their bras and girdles, if you can believe that!  Stripped ‘em right off their bodies, tossed ‘em in, and – whoosh!  Up in flames!”

            It wasn’t that Raylene was insensitive to Lula’s distress at the destruction of articles of beauty.  In fact, the very idea of throwing away a perfectly good lipstick made her gasp.  But the thought of summarily dispensing with a bra struck a tender nerve somewhere near her breastbone and she felt herself squirm beneath the elastic, lace and wire.  The kind of woman who wore her brassier like a second layer of skin, the concept of not wearing it was as foreign to Raylene as going barefoot in the rain or dancing in the street.  She wore her bra like she wore her own smell.  The only thing she took off her body less than her bra was her wedding band – because it needn’t be laundered or changed.  Raylene wore her bra to shop in, to clean in, and to sleep in.  It was the last thing she took off before bathing and the first thing she put back on.  It wasn’t that she wanted to wear it, or that she even liked wearing it.  She had made no conscious decision in the matter.  She wore her bra because that was what women did, which was all she thought she needed to know.

            Raylene left Lula’s shop that Saturday morning with an uneasy feeling swimming about her head.  Try as she might she couldn’t shake Lula’s story and, throughout her walk home, she revisited the idea with a guilty sense of confusion.  Never one to notice her own body, much less that of another woman, Raylene began to let her eyes slide down the faces of  the women she encountered to the area below their chins and, finally, to their breasts.  Aware that God could read her every thought she quickly reassured both Him, and herself, that she had no untoward interests in the women; their brassieres were where her interests lie.

But once the day’s duties were done and she found herself alone in the little tile bathroom where she freshened and changed her clothes, her own image in the mirror caught her eye.  Raylene couldn’t remember the last time she had looked at her body; it was as much a stranger to her as it was to Dewey, who sought only specific parts and then in the quiet ambiguity of the dark.  The woman in the mirror wore white cotton panties below a sturdy brassiere that crossed her heart neatly, leaving a narrow ribbon of flesh in between.  Eyes closed, Raylene slid the fingers of one hand down her neck, across her shoulder and under the strap. The cool touch of her hand gave way to a deep and glowing warmth.  She took a breath and let her palm move further down, across skin that felt sumptuous – like peach fuzz.  There was a roundness below she could sense as much as feel – a whole, satisfying, centering roundness that took Raylene’s thoughts out of the bathroom and into her summer garden where she cupped her palm around the imperfect sphere of a ripe tomato, full and warmed by morning sun.  It took her into the sweet smells of her morning kitchen, where a raised mound of dough was firm, living, ready to reinvent itself as hot buttered biscuits.  It took her to the furry belly of a childhood pup – round and wonderful and sated with absolute trust.

The grind of gravel in the driveway told her that Dewey was home from the church.  Out the window she could see the splat of fresh spring rain dot the windshield of his car.  His keys jingled in the back door then, slam, and all the air in the house pushed through the doorways and walls.

“I’m home,” he called as he sifted the mail in his hands.  He could hear the pat of Raylene’s feet down the hallway and through the kitchen, then away toward the back porch and door.  He looked up into the emptiness of the kitchen and realized she was gone. 

The rain, no longer a drizzle, ran in sleek rivulets down the window panes that looked out Raylene’s kitchen onto the street and the houses and shops and churches beyond.

“Raylene?” Dewey called, wiping the fog from the window.  “Good God, Raylene, where are you?”

And in the middle of the tar and gravel road that took the woman everywhere she went in the world in which she lived, Raylene stood, feet bare, face raised to heaven, arms extended like a wind mill in the steady rain that streamed and puddled in a tender valley between her breasts, separated from the world by nothing more than a thin layer of cotton and the unmistakable veil of joy.  

 

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2 Comments »

  1. By the way, I should mention that the bra burning event at the 1968 Miss America Pageant is, in fact, a fallacy. While there was a “freedom trashcan” into which women discarded things like bras and girdles and hair curlers and the like — numerous items symbolic of women’s oppression, at no point were the items burned. Similarly, no bras were destroyed in the writing of this story.

    Comment by cynthiaboiter — April 4, 2009 @ 13:07

  2. Cindi…I just read this story about “Raylene”. I enjoyed it very much. Thanks for the read. Lisa

    Comment by Lisa Sanders — April 15, 2009 @ 11:26


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