My new term at school started this week, and I’ve been trying to figure out how to juggle two classes at once. Also, this week at work we revealed our upcoming season to the public, so there was a lot of planning to be done for that party and the (good) aftermath. The good news is, I think I got my feet back under me. The even better news is that the Fiction Writing class is exactly what I wanted: some readings, then write a short story. Critique others. Every week. I am so excited.
I have been focusing on the other class (Literary Theory), so I don’t have anything to show yet for Fiction. But I thought I would hearken back to my first Fiction class at UC Davis, which I believe was 2005. I don’t remember what the prompt for this was. But it’s clearly loosely based on Lakeport (which, for the record, I adore – and which, in the last 10 years, finally got a Starbucks).
There is a magical thing happening to the town of Ashes South, Minnesota. Children and adults are gathered in the streets, eagerly awaiting the arrival of the bulldozer that will destroy the building that was their church in the seventies and early eighties, to raze the land and build afresh on top of it. Teenagers pretend not to care but in their diaries and when they’re drunk they confess to each other how excited they are about the changes that are coming about in Ashes South. There is little more to talk about between classes at the local high school, and the students – 207 in all – shiver in the cold February air, rubbing their arms through their jackets and talking about how the town will change. Daydreaming about the exciting lives that will soon be theirs, they pass around stolen cigarettes behind the weight room during the lunch period, then munch tic tacs on their walk back to the classrooms when the bell rings. But the entire time, they are talking about the news they’ve been seeing in the local paper, watching on the local news, discussing in their economics/government class, and hearing about from their parents over dinner.
South Ashes is the last town in Minnesota to get a stoplight. It is the last town without a public pool: the closest is 30 miles away. There are three families in the town with pools and they have pretty much accepted coming home in the afternoons to pools full of high schoolers, looking sheepish but unapologetic. In South Ashes, everything is closed by 6 pm, sometimes 5 pm on Sundays, except for the Safeway which was built 2 years ago: it’s open until 11 pm on the weekends. If teenagers are hanging out at midnight and get hungry, they’d better have stored up supplies earlier in the day, or they’ll be waiting until the morning. The Ashes South High School has a drama department, but it’s one 45-minute class per day, and their productions are sadly low-budget. Sometimes a parent volunteers to direct the spring musical, but usually it’s directed by the drama teacher, who is also the freshman English teacher, and also coaches boys’ basketball in the right season.
The people of Ashes South feel unexcited. They feel thin, and uninteresting. They flip through travel magazines but don’t go on vacations because they don’t want to embarrass themselves by accidentally exclaiming, “Look at how tall that building is!” or something similar. The tallest building in Ashes South is the courthouse, at three stories, and truth be told, the adults of Ashes South are a little afraid of the big world.
Today something is changing. The mayor of Ashes South is making an announcement about which everyone has already heard: rumors travel fast when there are less than 4000 people in a town. Still, everyone is excited about it becoming official. They gather in the town square, in front of the old library, down by the lake, and they murmur to each other while they are waiting for the mayor to make his announcement. Finally he arrives, and the cheer that goes up surprises even the people of Ashes South: they weren’t quite aware that they were capable of making such a noise.
The mayor is a man who never grins. But he is grinning. He knows the good news he has to impart on the people of his town, and he and his advisors have been working all month to perfect the plans. When he announces the arrival of a Starbucks in town, the citizens of Ashes South cheer: they have seen such things on television, they have read about them in books from the local library. Some of them have traveled, and they have tasted the wonders of the Starbucks. They have told others about this good thing. The mayor has just announced that one will be opening in Ashes South, and he steps that up by telling them the hours. “It will be open until…” He pauses for dramatic effect, even though it’s unnecessary. The people are absolutely hanging on his words; even the teenagers have forgotten to pretend that they are not interested. “…ten o’clock on the weeknights, and eleven o’clock on the weekends!”
The citizens are stunned. In the silence that follows, the mayor announces his slightly less unsettling news. “Because of this new addition to our economy, and the direction in which our city will now continue, we will no longer be known as Ashes South, Minnesota,” he says. “We are now the people of Ashes North, Minnesota!”
A cheer goes up, the mayor and the man who will become the new manager of the Starbucks drink a toast to the future success of the city, and the people of Ashes North leave the town square, talking about how their city will grow: how there will be freeways running everywhere and how even at 3 am, it will be so bright from lights that it will seem like daytime. There is excitement in their footsteps.
Ashes North closes down for the night, at 6 pm just like scheduled, and people continue to discuss the Starbucks over dinner, bowls of ice cream, and the nightly news. The old church is razed to the ground by the end of the week and the field sits, looking empty and ready for change.