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Mickey

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    As I writer, I am interested in what roots us to place, whether its blood or merely walking the same streets hundreds of years apart. My most recent work has centered on uncovering the hidden histories of women. I am a contributing writer to Hidden City Philadelphia, and recent published essays included Extant Magazine (Spring 2023) and "A Walker's Paradise" in the anthology "Ways of Walking" (2022).
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  1. Beginning of the opening scene: introduces antagonistic force, setting, tone, and foreshadows the primary conflict. Opening Quote: “There are rooms that wait for us. And someday we may be in that room and something may happen to us that may change our life forever.” –Gloria Vanderbilt (Nothing Left Unsaid/Anderson Cooper documentary) Word Count: 1016 (so far) Melly entered the room and heard a familiar refrain. “A closer inspection of this portrait, notwithstanding the cheery-yellow gown, will reveal clues to Elizabeth’s grief… the purple sash she holds and the urn to her left… can you see the word “farewell” written just there?” The guide pointed to the urn in the portrait as the tour-goers leaned in for a closer look. Melly walked quietly to the opposite side of the Withdrawing Room just in front of the west-facing windows full of bright late-afternoon light. “Waaaaittttt… I GOT IT!” A high-pitched squeal pierced the relative quiet of the room. From outside. Down below. Melly looked out to see her goddaughter laughing, being chased by Melly’s husband and nephew. Where on earth had they found a frisbee? She turned back to the room to find six faces staring directly at her. Five elderly ladies and an annoyed guide. He continued his well-rehearsed rhetoric. She tuned out his words. Melly knew them well enough. Nothing much had changed in the decade or so since she’d spent time here giving a somewhat similar tour herself. The same yellow and purple Wilton rug. The ensuite monochromatic yellow damask Lord Dunston Schumacher pattern used for upholstery, draperies, and wall hangings. The mis-matched collection of Queen Anne, Chippendale, and Hepplewhite furniture. Melly always believed Elizabeth would be mortified by the furnishings in this reproduction room. The room she is forced to look down upon from her portrait’s overmantel position. They had matched the room to the colors in her portrait. Her “mourning” portrait. What could be more dreadful than that? “Excuse me…” Melly heard the sound of a phlegmy throat clearing. It was the guide. She realized he was now standing directly behind her. Looking over her shoulder to the lawn down below. “Are those your children?” he asked. “I don’t have children.” He appeared crestfallen by the notion. “No? That’s a shame. Being a father, and especially a grandfather, has been such a highlight of my life.” He continued as if she cared to hear what he thought about anything. “Someone needs to tell that young miss to mind her manners. Screeching like that.” Melly turned abruptly to face the man. The color in her cheeks flared as she stared him down. “The tour has moved on to the Ballroom,” he continued, “please follow me. The rest of the group is waiting.” He was oblivious to her rage at what he’d said referencing her goddaughter. “Don’t worry about me,” she said. Now it was his turn to be perturbed with her. He was not a man who took well to anyone not following his direction. He stared back at her, as if to shame her into reconsidering. “I’m a former site manager,” she said. “I was told this is your last tour of the afternoon? So… I thought I’d be helpful… close the room down so the catering staff could start setting up for the party. MY party. It’s my birthday today. I’m hosting a dinner in the ballroom.” His grey eyes flickered with recognition. “The reason we’re closing early for tours today,” he said. “Yes. I was told this morning. Very well then.” He turned on his heels and slowly walked towards the ballroom entrance. Melly followed close behind. She could hear one of the ladies in the next room reading aloud from the letter written by Sally Bache, which sat on the music stand. Sally had written her “dear papa” Ben Franklin while he was performing his diplomatic duties as the first American Minister in France. “Just imagine,” the woman said, “she danced here in this room with George Washington on the occasion of his twentieth wedding anniversary!” Melly couldn’t help but roll her eyes. “George Washington danced here,” she thought to herself. Will we ever move on from that moment? She closed the door between the two rooms, then crossed back to close the door to the stair hall and reached over to extinguish the nondescript Ikea floor lamp in the corner. Then back to the window wall. She looked out to see that things had quieted down. The catering staff had started the set up for the pre-dinner garden cocktails. She carefully reached up for the cord to the Venetian blinds, dark wood with emerald green ribbons, the same as in every window of the museum. It was one of the most popular questions from visitors. Having only experienced the 20th-century aluminum version, they questioned the authenticity of such window treatments, having no idea the design was patented in the 1700s and popularized in Colonial Philadelphia. As the second blind dropped down, the room was suddenly gloomy. It took a moment for Melly’s eyes to adjust once she blocked out the late afternoon glare. Now the sun’s rays merely crept around the edges of the window blinds. And through the one broken slat. She was alone and the room was at rest. Well not really. Had it been Elizabeth’s era the English Dr. Wall-style blue and white porcelain tea set would have been removed. The Hepplewhite card table would have been folded down and placed against the wall along with its matching chairs. Every thing would have been put away by the servants. Melly sat on the floor, next to the tea table with a full view of Elizabeth’s portrait. Why had the familiarity never struck her before now? Her childhood tea parties with Snoopy, Pink bunny, and a well-dressed doll. The table set with petite linens made by a great-grandmother and a set of miniature Willow Blue china. The tea set she still owns. The tea set she’d always assumed would be passed onto her own children. She looked up at Elizabeth’s portrait. This was the exact place she’d first asked the question. If not motherhood? If not motherhood, then what? She’d moved into this house, Elizabeth’s house, not yet knowing the outcome. But questioning what her life would look like if she never got pregnant. If she never became a mother. Melly had entered the Withdrawing Room. And now she realized everything was different.
  2. 1. Story Statement: Melly, a middle-aged woman, must release the expectations of a patriarchal society, to fully embrace and be happy with the life she has created. Specifically, she must gain understanding and forgive herself for the choices she has made. 2. Antagonistic Force: The antagonistic force that pervades this novel is the patriarchal stew we’ve all been steeping in. For each woman, this is embodied by a different person and in some cases, the women themselves unwittingly propagate these narratives: A husband who can’t let go of the possibility of his wife having a child; historians and preservationists who propagate the narratives that any woman of merit was a mother, who focused on hearth and home, and the decisions these scholars made which served to erase any woman who falls outside that tight circle, (Including demolishing a home to preserve their chosen historical narrative); dangerous women, who are personified by those “outside the room” who highlight what happens when a woman makes choices outside of societal expectations—shunning, arrest warrants, and similar; and well-intentioned friends and family members, who remind childless women that they don’t understand love, and certainly not the unconditional love mothers believe is theirs alone. 3. Breakout Title: In the Withdrawing Room Quiet the Room 4. Comparable (Historic Fiction) Trust by Hernan Diaz: turning the narrative upside down when it’s viewed, not from the men creating the narrative, but when the woman’s story is uncovered. The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert: a fictional story grounded in a real location, The Woodlands, in Philadelphia, and focused on a woman operating outside the norm. 5. Hook Line: On her 50th birthday, an infertile woman confronts her perceived value in the world. As women’s autonomy and agency erode daily in the 21st-century, will the hidden stories of once-influential 18th, 19th, and 20th-century women provide an answer? 6. Conflict: (Inner Conflict) Melly remembers the first time she came into this room. When she first saw the portrait of Elizabeth over the mantel. The sad portrait of a woman painted with a purple sash and urn, commemorating the death of her “little lambs” as she called them. Back then, Melly asked the subject of the portrait, “if not motherhood, then what?” She hears voices from the garden below. She recognizes the suddenly deep voice of her nephew, and the giggles of her goddaughter. She looks out the window to see her husband in the mix. Where did that frisbee come from? They are all laughing now. It takes her back to that moment, more than a dozen years ago, when her husband was on the floor with that same nephew when he was barely a toddler. And her mother-in-law, watching from the sofa, loudly stating to everyone in the room, “what a shame my son won’t be a father. I always knew he’d be a great one.” Her cheeks still burned with indignity each time the memory emerged. They all knew it was her. She was the infertile one. The one who suffered miscarriage after miscarriage. The one who was placed on tables, poked and prodded, her female organs filled with dye. She was promised it could all be fixed, her belly filled with air and surgical instruments, only to be told post-surgery, “sorry” your fallopian tubes can’t actually be repaired. Should she have pushed forward? Should she have agreed to painful hormone shots, egg retrievals, and everything that went along with IVF treatments? Should they have put all their financial resources into the baby bucket? And the thing her family never knew… what if…? What if she hadn’t had that abortion when she was too young to be having sex? Had she done this to herself? This was the guilt she had never let go of. (Secondary Conflict- Social environment) (1942) Edith has a very big decision to make. Was it time to find a husband and start a family? Or was it time to join the army? Her mother had escaped from France and was back at home in England. Still her letters grew more frantic. America had finally been forced into the war. Another great world war. Her work contract with Mr. Widener was coming to an end. She valued her experience and training in the art world. But was it time to let it all go? What road would she take? 7. Setting: One room- A (formal) Withdrawing Room—from present day house museum back through 250 years, to when the house was home to revolutionary Philadelphians. The setting is in some sense a character in itself. There are stories inside the room and several outside the room. The westward facing windows in the room are very important, as are the south facing windows that do not exist in present day. The room has gone through drastic changes through time. In its original incarnation, it was one of the most opulent rooms in Revolutionary-era Philadelphia, dressed with the finest of furniture and fabrics, important artworks, and books. One hundred years later, the room is barren, the walls have been scraped clean as the innards of the room have been sold off to a very important museum. In the early 20th-century, the room is being recreated. The present-day incarnation is that of a dusty house museum. Outside the windows, the change has been just as drastic. A spacious colonial garden with a view to a Lady Petrie Pear tree, was sold off in pieces, eventually replaced by a 19th century red brick warehouse, and later replaced by a much smaller Colonial Revival walled garden. Each character will look out the windows and see a very different landscape. Our main character, along with her goddaughter, will imagine the room as it *could be* today, reflecting the untold stories that lay hidden within. One character will find herself in the “Powel Room” as it is in the Met Museum in NYC, where it was surreptitiously relocated after removal in the early 1900s. (A reveal.) The room in the Met has faux windows onto a fake garden—altogether dead, removed from its original walls and light.
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