Tag Archives: fiction

Genesis (a short story)

In the beginning, it’s awkward, as so many things are. You don’t know where you’re allowed to sit, where you’re expected to sleep, what there is to eat. You don’t even know what to call him. He seems to assume you know his name, and it apparently doesn’t occur to him to ask yours. Not that you would even know the answer.

He shows you around, touching you carefully as though you’re new-blown glass. He doesn’t seem to know what to do with you. (But you don’t know what to do with yourself.) He tries to make small talk with you, but it’s one-sided. You want to ask him about everything around you, but you don’t want to pester him. When you do ask him a question, he gives a long-winded answer that leaves you feeling…annoyed. If he knows more than I do, it’s because he’s older and more experienced, you think, not because he’s smarter.

Although…maybe he is smarter. You want to ask him what he thinks.

You’re perching carefully on a large mossy rock, watching the fish jump in the river, when he calls to you, “Eve!” For a moment you don’t move, and then you realize he’s talking to you, using a name you haven’t heard him use for any of the plants or animals he’s shown you. He calls again—“Eve?”—and you stand up tentatively and take a step toward him.

“Can you bring me some figs?” he asks, from where he’s stretched out on the grass. You look around, until he points to the correct tree. You gather a handful and bring them to him, then watch him pop each one into his mouth. He makes an irritating “mm…ah!” sound after each one, but doesn’t offer you any.

“Thanks, Eve,” he says as an afterthought. You’re not sure what the appropriate response is, so you just smile. Later, you think maybe you should have thanked him back?

As the sun starts going down, and a barely perceptible coolness settles over the garden, an untoward rumbling sounds comes from your midsection, followed by a vaguely uncomfortable feeling of emptiness. Your male companion apparently notices the noise, and he asks, “Are you hungry?”

“Hungry…” you say. “Yes, I think so.”

He seems confused. “Well, then eat something.” He gestures around you. “Eat whatever you like.”

Suddenly the choice seems too large for you. “Oh, I don’t even know what…” He takes your hand and leads you from tree to bush to vine, giving you the names again that he gave you that morning. “Mandarins…grapes…olives…dates…figs…” he says, and you repeat each one, determined this time to remember. At each stop he also picks a fruit and puts it in your mouth, so you can savor each different taste, and use the flavor to help remember which is which. After one complete pass through the garden, you’ve tasted dozens of morsels from his fingers, and no longer feel hungry.

Soon, it’s full dark, the only light coming from a high clear full moon. The birds have completely stopped singing. You hear a hooting noise from somewhere in the wilds of the garden, outside of your clearing. Your mind feels less sharp than it had in the daylight, and you have an urge to lie down. You look around for an appropriate place, but it seems that your male companion has claimed the biggest, softest stretch of grass. He’s on it now, propped on his elbows, legs sprawled out. He’s watching you.

“You can come lie down with me, if you want,” he says. You don’t want to hesitate and hurt his feelings, so you step carefully over to him and stretch out, using your arm as a pillow. For a moment, all is quiet, except for the myriad night noises that reach you, most from sources you can’t yet name, although the sound of the river is familiar.

You can hear him breathing shallowly.

You are simultaneously exhausted and alert. Today seemed so long and so full, and all you want is to be momentarily unaware of it again. You have lived a lifetime in twelve hours. You feel as if you could close your eyes and drift away, tethered to this garden but in a different place somehow.

At the same time, you are highly aware of him so close to you. He doesn’t seem tired and ready to drift off. But what could he possibly want from you? In the dark?

He shifts position and then you feel his hand on your stomach. You hold your breath, but he leaves it there, as if it’s an accident. Then he says quietly, “Do you think that you’re—that I’m—that we’re both here for a reason?”

“I don’t know why I’m here,” you say.

“Well, you’re here for me,” he says. “You’re here because I was lonely.”

“But I don’t even know your name,” you admit.

“I’m Adam,” he says, surprised. “Didn’t anyone tell you? I’m Adam. You’re Eve.” A pause, and then his hand slides higher up your stomach, and your muscles tense. “We belong together.”

“What are you doing?” you ask. He’s quiet for a moment.

“I’m not sure,” he says. “I just wanted to touch you. I felt like I should touch you. So I did. Is that all right?”

“I suppose so,” you say automatically. Then, “Actually no, I’d rather you didn’t right now.” When he doesn’t respond, you add, “I mean, I just learned your name.”

“I understand,” he says, and his hand is gone, replaced by the cool feeling of nighttime on your skin. Your initial sense of relief is replaced by longing.

You don’t sleep much that night. In the moonlight you can see Adam’s profile, as he snores quietly next to you. You think about his words: You’re here for me. We belong together. And if you can’t figure out why else you’re here, isn’t that as good a reason as any? You think of the animals he showed you today—they all come in pairs. A goose and a gander, a doe and a buck, a lion and a lioness. An Adam and an Eve?

As the sky is lightening, you finally fall asleep. You sleep lightly, not really dreaming. When you feel Adam get up, you’re fully awake again, but with a newfound sense of peace.

When you get up, he’s sitting cross-legged near the river, absent-mindedly plucking a handful at a time and sprinkling it into the water. As you watch, two ducks float into view, followed by a trio of ducklings. You feel a pleasant tug inside you at the sight of the small family.

You walk to Adam’s side and sit down. He smiles at you and pulls some more grass. You slide your hand into his free hand, and lace your fingers through his, and without a moment’s hesitation he squeezes back. You’re still not sure what the future holds, but for now, you feel content. You lay your head on his shoulder and you both watch the ducks until they’re gone.

 

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tbt: Ashes North

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).

==

Ashes North

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.

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Throwback Thursday: Short Fiction

March 2003

Andrew’s father was learning to be a squirrel.

“What is your dad doing?” the other kids would ask.

“He’s practicing—” was Andrew’s reply.

Andrew was almost eight years old.  He lived in a yellow two-story house.  The staircase had a banister he could slide down, when his mom wasn’t watching.  The upstairs bathtub had been leaking for almost a year, so Andrew showered downstairs.  They had a cat, Adelaide, who brought the family gifts of small rodents from the acres around the house.  The backyard was big and sloping, enclosed by a fence that came up to Andrew’s chest.  Flakes of blue paint were chipping off the fence, and you could see Andrew’s footholds that he used to vault over it.

“Andrew, use the gate!” his mother would cry from the kitchen bay window where she sat to do crossword puzzles.  Andrew’s hands would grasp the top of the fence, and in two steps he’d be over and running down the slightly sloping land, into the trees that grew on the acres behind his house and yard.

This is where he first saw his father talking with the squirrels.

 

Andrew timed his breathing with his footsteps, in, out, left, right, in, out, left, right.  Leaves crunched under his feet like the screams of tiny elves.  He grabbed hold of a branch to slow himself, and swung his body around, feeling the sharp bite of the bark in his palm, smelling the moss and the fungus that lived in the trees.  His breathing slowed and he ran his hand down the tree before walking on.

He heard a voice to his left, and he walked toward it as quietly as possible—a difficult feat over dry late-September oak leaves.

It was his father, on the ground on hands and knees.  There were leaves in his brown-gray hair and a little twig on his shirt sleeve.  He was peering up intently at an oak tree, and didn’t see Andrew approach.

“What?”  His father cocked his head toward the tree.  There was a squirrel, bushy tail spread out behind him, clinging to the bark on the tree.  “Ah, I see.”  Andrew’s father rose to a crouching position, and Andrew could see he held something in his left hand.  His father raised it to his mouth, and holding it in both hands, began to nibble at it–it’s a walnut, Andrew realized—as he would at a piece of pound cake, or a chunk of smoked Gouda cheese.

Andrew watched, fascinated, as his father finished the nut and wiped his lips with his thumb.  He then moved, still in a crouch, toward the tree.  The squirrel, who had watched Andrew’s father the whole time, suddenly looked at Andrew.  His father turned too, just as suddenly, and almost fell over when he saw his son standing there.

“Andrew!  What are you doing?  Don’t you have chores to do?”  He had stood and was brushing off the jeans he wore on weekends, and shaking leaves out of his hair.

“Finished ‘em.  What are you doing, Dad?” Andrew asked.  He pointed to his father’s sleeve, and his father brushed the tiny twig away.

“Oh, just chatting with the squirrels.  They’re great company.  You can learn a lot,” his father said cheerfully.  “You ought to try it some time.”  He patted Andrew’s head and hugged his shoulders.  “What do you say we get some lunch?”

“I already ate,” Andrew said.  The squirrel had run up the tree into the high branches, and he scanned for it, but it had blended in and disappeared.

“Oh, did you?  Well, I’m going to go get a sandwich.  Are you going to stay down here awhile?”

“Yeah.”  It was the perfect time of day to play in the woods.  The sun was beginning to fall, and it was slitting through the trees in places, creating glitter out of the dust in the air.  There were places Andrew could see the actual shafts of light, and he liked to stand still and watch them shift and then disintegrate as the sun moved out of place.  He liked the way tree trunks went fire orange right before the sun finally set.  The woods could never be the same because leaves fell and trees grew and squirrels ran madly like small senile old ladies and the sun never stopped crawling across the sky.

“Well, you know to be back in the yard by dark—”

“Yup,” Andrew said.

“I’ll see you later then.  Remember, the squirrels are very interesting.  They can teach you anything.”  His father winked solemnly.  “Just listen to them.  Bye, Andrew!” He began to make his way back up the hill.

“Bye, Dad!” Andrew called, then turned and surveyed the trees around him.

Read the full story

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Why I quit nanowrimo 2013

Okay. So, I realize that technically there are still 4 more days in November; and that if you can conceive it and believe it, you can achieve it; and it’s not over until the fat lady sings, etc etc. But here’s the thing. I have some really good reasons for why I’ve decided to quit Nanowrimo this year.

1. Ultimately this is about fun. So when I’m having an adult temper tantrum because I “have” to write, then the purpose has been defeated. At least for me.

2. I guard my sleep jealously these days (since it’s still interrupted multiple times a night, and it’s always over by 7am at the latest). I’m not about to stay up until 2am writing, like I used to.

3. I thought I liked my story, until I got to a point that I was like, what the heck is this about. (Yes, I know that’s kind of the point of this whole thing.) But then I abandoned it midstream and switched to this YA novel idea. And it was downhill from there.

4. I also joined a dietbet this month, and I won that, so you know, you win some, you lose some.

5. When I started this, I was shooting for 25,000 words (the “real” goal is 50,000). I figured that 25,000 would still be impressive, especially with the other things I’ve had going on this month. And I made it to about 32,000 words. So I think that’s something to be proud of.

So…that’s that. Sorry, I hate when people just whine about how busy they are. But I’m not going to spend the next four days (and over Thanksgiving, even!) feeling guilty and stressed about this. There’s too much other stuff to pay attention to. Sorry, unfinished weird novel. I’ll read you over in a few months and see what’s salvageable. RIP.

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Filed under Endings, Fiction, Memoir, Nonfiction, Not awesome, Self improvement, Writing

Throwback Thursday: NaNoWriMo

I am doing nanowrimo again this year, and I’m determined to win. So of course today, when I’m almost 3500 words behind, I have decided to do things like: read past nanowrimos; throwback thursday blog post; make plans for hanging out with old friends via Facebook.

So this will be quick, and then I’m seriously going to get writing. I’m doing this thang this year. I have a plot in mind and everything. I’m pretty psyched about it.

I’ve done it in the past. I think I’ve only “won” in 2003 and 2011, but I might be forgetting a year in there. 2007? I’m not sure.

Here is an excerpt from 2006, a year I started writing, but didn’t finish it. Enjoy!

==

Luke started stealing when he was three years old. Goaded on by his older siblings, Luke loved being the center of attention when, around the corner from the store, he would turn his little pockets inside out and wield to them the treasures he’d gleaned. For Moira, the ten-year-old, there was always nail polish, and for Gavin, the eight-year-old, mostly candy and occasionally baseball cards. Luke never stole anything for himself. He hadn’t associated stealing with gaining things; he only associated it with pleasing his siblings.

It began very casually, in a department store, on a shopping trip with his mother and brother and sister. His mother was taking forever in the underwear section of the store, so the three children wandered off together: nothing new, as Moira often babysat her two brothers. They found themselves around the corner from the department store, facing a candy shop with a display window filled with things so tempting that a diabetic nun would have to pause and consider it.

Gavin went in first, followed by Luke. Moira, trailing after them, was already forming an idea in her head. She selected a piece of peppermint salt water taffy (her favorite) from one of the barrels, and when Gavin wasn’t looking, she handed it to Luke behind the racks of novelty candies.

“Here, Luke,” she said. “This is for Mom. Put it in your pocket like a good boy.”

Luke worshipped his mother and delighted in the idea of bringing her presents. He put the taffy into the front pocket of his little overalls. As soon as Gavin came back from the chocolate-covered pretzels, bemoaning the fact that they didn’t have any money, Moira raised her voice to say, “We should probably get going, Mom will be done shopping soon.” Then she hurried them out onto the sidewalk.

They were back in front of the department store when she held out her palm to Luke. “Give it back now, baby,” she said, one hand on her hip.

Luke clutched his fist over his pocket. “Nuh-uh,” he said sternly, “This is for Mama.”

“You can’t tell Mama about it,” Moira said slyly. “You know why?”

Gavin looked back and forth between the two of them; he’d missed it altogether.

“You stole it, Luke,” Moira said. “Do you know what stealing is?”

Luke didn’t, but he understood that it wasn’t a good thing.

“Stealing is when you take something that’s not yours to take,” Gavin said solemnly. “Did you steal something, Luke?”

Luke’s eyes were big. “Moira gave it to me! She said it was for Mama!”

“What was for me?” his mother said, coming around the corner.

All three of them jumped, although their grasps of the situation were all slightly different.

“This, mama,” said Moira, with the true cunning of a ten-year-old child, and she gave her mother a big hug around her middle.

“Yeah,” said Gavin, and he and Luke joined in. Luke could feel the lump of taffy pressing uncomfortably against his chest as he hugged his mother, and he could feel a lump of similar size rising in his throat as he thought about what he had done.

Later, Moira convinced him that stealing was not bad. She convinced him that store owners had more than their fair share of things like candy, “and nail polish,” she added seriously, letting that sink in. All stealing was doing was spreading around the wealth. And there was nothing wrong with that, was there? Luke shook his head, understanding that Moira was right, she was right about things like this all the time. His mother said to listen to Moira, especially when she was in charge of him, and that’s what he had done, he had listened to his older sister. He knew he had done nothing wrong.

And that is why, when Moira took him to the corner drugstore the next afternoon, and in the back of the store, pointed out a color of nail polish she had been coveting, he obediently slipped it into his little pocket once again. It lay there, heavier than the taffy, and making a bigger lump, but Moira zipped his jacked up over him, claiming she didn’t want the baby to catch cold, and carried him out of the store, right past the store owner. The store owner didn’t even look over, he was flipping through magazine pages, bored with the kids who came in to check out the comic books or the gum rack, but never had money to purchase anything.

He noticed the little girl with the baby brother coming in more and more often, though. Sometimes it was the baby brother with an older boy. But always the baby brother. And the kids often bought things: shampoo, a magazine, a bottle of juice. He imagined that their parents just sent them out on errands frequently, and they brought the youngest one along to keep him out of the way. He didn’t put the little kid with the faded overalls, and his inventory which kept coming up short, together.

By the end of the summer, Moira’s nail polish collection had increased considerably, Gavin had been comfortably kept in Bazooka bubble gum and tootsie rolls, and the owner of the corner drugstore was out a little more than a hundred dollars. Luke had celebrated his fourth birthday, and had become one of the slickest fingersmiths on the Lower East Side.

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For Narnia

I recently finished reading the Narnia Chronicles. Confession: I often imply to people that I have read these books before, “when I was younger.” False. I think at some point my dad started reading them to me, but I don’t think we made it past The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. And I’m pretty sure we skipped The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, because I complained that I had seen the movie so many times.

It’s not like I didn’t like the movie. But you know how it is when you’re a kid and you have those movies that you’ve seen so many times you know every single inflection of dialogue, and you don’t remember not knowing them.

Which means we read Prince Caspian and Dawn Treader.

While implying to people, “I read those when I was younger,” I also implied, “I don’t really care for them.” But it’s not like I could explain why.

And now, I’m ashamed. Because as I started reading (and then devouring) them, I have come to the realization that I either didn’t ever read these books, or I fell asleep as soon as my dad started reading, or I was just flat out not paying attention. I don’t remember a single thing – which I assumed I would: distantly, from 20+ years ago. I don’t remember these characters or themes or conflict.

And I found them really compelling and interesting, not only for everything they symbolize but also for the actual stories themselves. They’re fun to read, they’re super quick but they’re not fluffy. I actually really like the Christian symbolism in the book. And as soon as I finished reading, I jumped over to the internet to read Neil Gaiman’s story, “The Problem of Susan.”

The books belong to Drew – he has had this particular box set since he was 10 years old, and it’s moved with us several times over the past years. But I’ve always just stuck it on the top shelf with his historical biographies and ignored it.

Then, for my book club, a friend picked The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe – and as a companion, a book called The Magician’s Book: A Skeptic’s Adventures in Narnia, by Laura Miller. Miller talks about more than just LWW and it made me really curious about them. At the same time, I wished that my book club had just elected to read the entirety of the Narnia Chronicles, since it’s only about 1500 pages total. We’ve tackled worse.

So I decided that I would read them all on my own – partly so I could hold my own in conversation with four other people who, I’m sure, have all read the Chronicles multiple times. And partly because I wasn’t in love with Miller’s book, and I wanted to supplement this month’s book choice.

So now I’m a little obsessed. I tore through the books. And yet, hearing from others how their experiences changed between reading the Chronicles as a kid, and reading them as an adult, maybe I’m glad I’m just getting around to them now. There’s nothing for them to live up to, and I can’t be let down by any childhood heroes. And I can fully enjoy the religion of the books without feeling like I got tricked into it.

At least now I get why my dad wanted to read them to me. Because they are awesome. I will totally read them to my kid some day.

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Filed under Books, Children, Memoir, Nonfiction, Parents

Throwback Thursday: Prose

Okay, here’s something from one of my creative writing: fiction classes at Davis. I have zero recollection of writing this, but it’s got my name on it (and it sure sounds like me). The prompt for this little homework blurb was:

A Stranger Comes to Town (April 2004)

“Guess where I am,” he said, and then, without waiting, “I’m coming to see you.”  She went through a quick spray of shock, excitement, happiness, and then suddenly shock again.  He lived an hour and a half away from her – two hours in heavy traffic – and while they had been talking over the phone for the entire summer, she didn’t feel the need to meet him in person.  He had offered to drive down to visit her several times, and each time she had mumbled stories of previous engagements and sworn vague promises.  “I got tired of waiting for you to make up your mind.  I’ll be there in an hour.”  The call ended and she was left holding the phone to her ear.  She was still holding it there when it rang again, no more than a minute later.  “I know what you’re thinking.”  He began talking before she could even say “hello.”  “You’re thinking that I don’t know where you live and so how can I find you?  You’re thinking you’re going to hide in a city of twenty thousand people.  I know you’re working tonight and there can’t be many Blockbusters in town.  I’ll see you soon.”  He hung up again without waiting for her to say anything.  She couldn’t help feeling that, despite their telephone relationship, he was really just a stranger coming to town.

I’m intrigued by this…and also by the reference to Blockbuster. LOL.

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