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Brigit's Flame, Week 1: Proud Mary



When the economy bottomed out in ’09, Camp Shenanigans was born.
 

At the time, folks in the city were losing their homes and jobs by the dozen, and it wasn’t just the poor families, either. Dads and moms in suits and skirts found themselves parked on the curb outside of their dream, watching it go to the highest bidder.
 

With nowhere to go, they all packed up and started walking. It was easy to spot these freshly-streetbound families, especially the kids. Their hair was still clean, their eyes still wide and bright, unlike the matted hair and on those feral children whose cradle had been the cold street and whose eyes seem too old for their dirty, cherubic faces.  
 

Along the way, these newly-nomadic tribes found one another and held on tight. Necessity replaced status and shame; former executives and donut shop workers could be seen feeding each other's children and picking through recycling bins together, looking for cans to cash in. 


It would have been inspiring if it weren't so damned sad.


Some of these clans pooled their money and hatched a plan for survival. They bummed rides to Wal-Mart and bought as much food and as many tents and sleeping bags as they could. They took their supplies and set up shop under the on-ramp to 95 and have been there, and growing, ever since.
 

By December of ’09, Camp Shenanigans was a fully-operational tent city. They had a system of government that rotated officials every few weeks. Hell, even the Governor knew about them and tried every so often to shut them down. But the Camp, united, always won. They’d even gotten the support of the locals, who dropped by every now and then with new blankets and hot meals.
 

Shenanigans citizens knew each other more intimately than most families do; a tent flap doesn’t offer much privacy, and showers were but a distant memory to most residents. That’s why they all took notice on a clear day near Christmas when an unfamiliar woman showed up on the grounds.
 

She was tall, broad and jittery, her skin was pale and blotchy. She wore what looked to be jeans that had been slept-in for a week and a gray, baggy “Newport” sweatshirt. On her feet were ratty old house slippers, and over her shoulder a large canvas bag, filled to busting. She crossed her arms and moved her big brown eyes back and forth across the camp the way the locals did when they dropped off supplies: no eye contact.
 

Jack Monahan, the Camp Shenanigans mayor at the time, was one of the first to spot the woman as she stood fidgeting at the outskirts of the tents. Earlier that day, a priest from the nearby Episcopal church had dropped off some leftovers from the soup kitchen, and the camp was having an early Christmas feast around the trash can bonfire. Jack made the new woman a plate of meatloaf and potatoes and headed over to her. She jumped as he stuck out his hand.
 

"Jack Monahan, mayor of Camp Shenanigans,” he said. He withdrew his hand after a while when he saw she had no intention of uncrossing her arms. “Welcome to our city!”
 

The woman’s eyes were red and the skin around them puffy, as if she’d been crying for days. Several times, she opened her mouth to say something but nothing came out. Jack jovially thrust the plate of steaming food towards her.
 

“I know you’re feeling ashamed, but don't be. We're all just like you. Here in Tent City, we try to make the best of a bad situation. Let’s get you settled.”
 

The woman took a deep breath and crossed her arms tighter.
 

“I am not ashamed, and I don’t want your charity food or one of those tents,” she said. Her voice was powerful but wavered as she spoke. Her presence resonated with Jack. He imagined she had been someone pretty important until her life was turned on its head. 

“I have everything I need in this bag. I saw the fire and just wanted to warm my hands.”
 

She pushed past him. Jack turned and watched her stride toward the fire without stopping to introduce herself or lend a hand to anyone. He’d seen this all before. As a longtime Camp member, he had watched many a man’s pride disintegrate when the nights got cold and the options thin. He himself had shunned the hand of charity, until his children began crying with hunger and his wife left with them to live in a shelter. From then on, pride was a luxury he couldn’t afford. Everyone’s got a limit, he always said. It’s just a matter of when you hit it. He was willing to wait for this woman to come around.
 

Over the next few weeks, the woman passed through every couple of days, always looking worse for it. The holes in her jeans grew into gaping mouths at her knees and the Newport sweatshirt  was soon dark as tar in spots. She never spoke to anyone or accepted anything. She would push through people as if they weren’t there in order to get a bit of warmth from the trash can bonfire that burned through the night. Any eye contact she gave was filled with disdain and condescension. Camp members took to calling her "Proud Mary" and would clear out when they saw her coming. Except Jack. Every time she showed up, Jack was there to offer her food and conversation, both of which went unclaimed. The camp would all sit in their tents, shaking their heads at their mayor and his lost cause.  
 

February roared into Camp Shenanigans with harsh winds and bitter nights. The camp elections came and went; Lisa Berger, a former school teacher, was the new mayor. It was around election time that the camp members noticed Proud Mary hadn’t been seen for longer than she normally stayed away. Jack wanted to organize a search party.
 

“What for?” Louise Martin said at the weekly camp meeting. “It’s not like Proud Mary ever bothered with us.” A murmur of support rose from the tents surrounding the trash can fire where Jack stood, alone. Mayor Berger looked on, waiting for his argument, her teeth chattering under her hood.
 

"Make it quick, Monahan,” she said through a locked jaw. “The wind is picking up and the sun is down now. No one should be out in this.”
 

“Exactly!” Jack shot back. “We need to find Proud Ma—this woman. She’s out there alone in this, probably on the street. You remember how that is, don't you? So she’s got a bad attitude; that’ll change eventually. We have to do all we can.”
 

“But why?” Louise asked.
 

“Because,” Jack cried over a gust of icy wind. “She’s one of us. And we stick together.”
 

Silence fell over Camp Shenanigans for a minute. Rustling and shifting then mounted inside the tents and Jack saw fathers and mothers tucking in their children and grabbing flashlights. Adrenaline shot through him as he mentally reviewed the usual haunts of the homeless near their camp. He hoped it wasn’t too late.

Comments

Thanks for reading. We have a tent city here in Providence, too. I just can't get them out of my mind.
This is a great story. Sometimes the poor are the most rich, for they actually care for others.

It IS extremely sad having to live like that though.

Financial woes are so hard. We're in debt but I'm thankfully every month we manage to keep our house.
Thanks so much for reading! I'm glad you enjoyed it. Tell your friends :) lol
What a great story. You can feel the tension building, until the end is left with a feeling of anxiety. Very well done, and good luck this week.
thank you very much! good luck to you, too, and congrats on your NaNoWriMo win. i got about 1,000 words in and had to give up this year.

I didn't have any choice but to win. It was my husband's Christmas present, and I didn't have a backup plan. lol
what a crafty idea! i need something like that to keep me in it next year.
I loved the human element to this story- very touching and very mysterious. Engaging!
thank you very much!
This was so well written. Very tense and not something everyone wants to hear, but it was beautifully told. Thanks for sharing this and addressing a very real problem.
thank you very much for reading.
vividly unusual. Kudos!
thank you i think? lol i've never had my writing called that before. :) thanks for reading.
Wow. Wow, that's a vivid piece of work you've got there. Is it bad that I can totally see this happening?
a. thanks for reading! i appreciate the feedback.

b. it's not far-fetched; i actually based parts of it on a real tent city here in my home state. it's happening all over the country right now.


once again, thank you very much!
~Kate :)
There's something about this story that I really like, but I just can't articulate it... *scratches head* There's something about Proud Mary and Jack and the whole camp that I really like. I just can't really describe it...
haha thank you? let me know if you end up putting a finger on it. i'd like to know! :)
I like this story; it struck me as very realistic and touching :) Even though Proud Mary wasn't nice to them, they still cared about her. It makes me wonder what is truly the better society- the one in the tent city, or the one that existed before?
thanks so much for reading! i'm glad you saw something in it.

EDITOR

Hello, there! Sorry about the late edit, my power got knocked out by arctic wasteland conditions – aka, a Nor’easter/blizzard. Great fun, that.

Anyway, I’m pretty sure I’ve edited for you before, so you know how I operate. Let’s get to it!

[At the time, folks in the city were losing their homes and jobs by the dozen, and it wasn’t just the poor families, either.]

First, I just wanna say it’s a very nice call hitting on current events and concerns. It is immediately relatable to the reader. In this sentence, I’d suggest turning the comma after “dozen” to a hyphen.

[Dads and moms in suits and skirts found themselves parked on the curb outside of their dream, watching it go to the highest bidder.]

I think the beginning part of this sentence, while a nice way of painting a picture, reads a little awkwardly due to the phrasing. You could probably summarize “suits and skirts” to something like “business attire” to fix that.

[It was easy to spot these freshly-streetbound families, especially the kids.]

It should actually be “street bound”.

[Their hair was still clean, their eyes still wide and bright, unlike the matted hair and on those feral children whose cradle had been the cold street and whose eyes seem too old for their dirty, cherubic faces.]

The beginning portion of the contrast between the new homeless and the old reads a little awkwardly. Consider again changing the comma to a hyphen and the text to “not at all like those feral children with matted hair whose cradle…”

On another note, I really like the description you used here. Not only is it really lovely for scene setting purposes, but it does a brilliant job of drawing a contrast of appearance. I also like the diction through this. Nice work!

[Some of these clans pooled their money and hatched a plan for survival. They bummed rides to Wal-Mart and bought as much food and as many tents and sleeping bags as they could. They took their supplies and set up shop under the on-ramp to 95 and have been there, and growing, ever since.]

This is VERY sad, and you’ve done an excellent job detailing it. Your descriptions and scene setting are simple and straightforward, but they really pack a punch with them.

[But the Camp, united, always won.]

I think it’s established pretty well that the Camp folks are tight, so consider cutting the “united” from this. It reads a little oddly anyway.

[She was tall, broad and jittery, her skin was pale and blotchy.]

The comma after “jittery” turns this into an incomplete sentence. Consider either making it a period or semicolon. Normally, I’d say have two short sentences so close together would read jilted, but in this instance I kind of like that affect. Her presence is jilting to the Camp folk, therefore giving the sentences a clipped feeling will reflect this on the reader. Or … whatever.

[On her feet were ratty old house slippers, and over her shoulder a large canvas bag, filled to busting.]

Cut the comma after “bag”. It’s not really needed.

She crossed her arms and moved her big brown eyes back and forth across the camp the way the locals did when they dropped off supplies: no eye contact.

[Jack jovially thrust the plate of steaming food towards her.]

For some reason, this line triggers my squee. I can just see this grizzled man beaming as he tries to be hospitable.

[The holes in her jeans grew into gaping mouths at her knees and the Newport sweatshirt was soon dark as tar in spots.]

This is again fantastic description. There’s only one extremely tiny thing here, and that’s the extra space between “sweatshirt was”.

Overall Impressions:

This was incredibly enjoyable to read! You nailed the emotional aspect of this perfectly and your descriptions were dead on fantastic. It was very bittersweet to read and is probably one of my favorite entries for this week. Outstanding work!

I really don’t think there were any major critiques for this. Some punctuation, a couple flow issues … but nothing that really stood out glaringly. I did make a few stylistic suggestions, but those you can take or leave as you feel like it.

Again, this was a really wonderful and endearing piece. Really well done this week!

Re: EDITOR

Thank you so much for reading and editing. I definitely see your point on all of the crits you gave. I appreciate your taking the time to do this.

~Kate :)
Hi, I'm Kelly, one of your editors for the week.

When the economy bottomed out in '09, Camp Shenanigans was born.
I don't know why, but I love this sentence as an introduction.

Their hair was still clean, their eyes still wide and bright, unlike the matted hair and on those feral children whose cradle had been the cold street and whose eyes seem too old for their dirty, cherubic faces.
This sentence is a bit long and gets tedious by the end. I would suggest just separating into two sentences. Also, the wording doesn't make sense here: "unlike the matted hair and on those feral children..."

I really like how this is presented. It's so believable that I'm not even sure if it's true! the descriptions and the wording just feel so real.

Thanks for sharing,
Kelly

August 2010

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