We don’t have a name for it, though we often refer to it humorously as A Writers Group Of Two. We like it that way, for now. We push each other to write and set deadlines for accomplishing our tasks. This makes us accountable, and most writers work well on deadlines. When I told the only other member, Amy, that I wanted to showcase her work in this week’s Friday Fiction, she agreed, and so here we are…two of us and two different scenarios.
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The first scenario is from my friend Amy Nelson. Her task was as follows:
IMPERATIVE: Write a fragment of a story that is made up entirely of imperative commands: Do this; do that.
And now I present her piece…
Do not be afraid of me. Come in. Sit here beside me on this bed covered with linens that smell of bleach and urine. Turn off that blaring television. Be a dear and help me, please. Fill that Styrofoam cup with cool water and help moisten lips that once kissed dapper men in tweed suits and trilby hats. Bring relief to a mouth which ate nothing but beans six days a week during the Depression.
Scoot in closer. Look at me. Set your eyes on eyes that have witnessed the falling of nations, the unimaginable Sonoran Desert sunset, and the scalding death of a baby sister killed by boiling water spilled from a stove.
Ignore the woman in the neighboring bed who thinks you are her mother. Watch out for the Filipino gal with the little paper cups of pills. Lean in and let me see your smile so I can tell by the curves of your mouth and the light behind your eyes whether or not you are someone who loves me. Let me look at you, you lovely, young girl. You have eyes like Irving.
Stop shrinking away from my veiny arms. Go ahead. Touch the papery skin of fingers that have touched the Western Wall in Jerusalem and dragged absentmindedly through the sands of a Caribbean beach. Rub the bent, twisted feet that ran through Coney Island and danced the Quickstep in Brooklyn’s Prospect Hall. Feel the fleeting strength of hands that molded clay, made hamburger patties, stacked cases of beer in the cooler of the K&K Market, and held a baby who looked very much like you.
Hold my hand a minute longer before you leave.
Don’t let your children put you in a place like this. Tell them about me. Share with them the tale of how I trusted Irving and left everything I knew and loved in Brooklyn to help him open a general store in the heart of Maryland tobacco country. Imagine watching your husband die right before your eyes two weeks after opening the store. Picture me running that place-serving burgers to hungry farmers and selling booze and cigarettes to truck drivers.
Know this: regardless of how hard I worked, how far I traveled, and how many grandchildren I sang to sleep over the years, I never escaped the vision of Irving’s hands- one clenched around the steering wheel; the other clutching his chest. Picture my silent, wide-eyed daughter in the back seat. See time stop inside that car, while outside, the tobacco plants-row after endless row-bend in the summer breeze.
Stop referring to me as “Great Grandma,” as I am certainly not old enough for that and quite frankly, it makes me uncomfortable. Don’t ask if I know who you are and expect me to know more than this: you are someone I love.
Stop crying. Come here. Massage the bony shoulders that have born such weight.
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The second scenario is mine. It’s again from the Brian Kiteley book. My instructions were as follows:
Christmas Every Three Months–This task required the writer to construct an incomplete short story about how time, in one’s middle age, seems to speed up a great deal.
Here’s my piece…
It is sleeting and windy, not unlike an early December day in Maryland. It’s tapping on the windows loudly, like a ghost that wants to come in from the cold. Her children are upstairs; she is downstairs, in the basement, sorting through boxes, trying to organize them so the task becomes less daunting. There are at least twelve of them, stuffed like pickles in a jar, and she knows when she takes the lids off, things may fall everywhere, so she places them on the carpet for fear of breakage. Her hands are cold, tired. She opens the first, sees the tiny red and white stuffed Christmas mice, their tails frayed and a bit torn, their necks softened after years of use and being packed away. She looks at them, remembers.
It feels like just yesterday she was a girl herself, waking up on Christmas morning, running into the family room, looking at the lit tree, the presents underneath, the large chalkboard propped up on the sofa. Written on it the words: Merry Christmas, 1975. Just a girl. Innocent. No stresses in those days, just the idea of playing outside and learning in school occupied most of her thoughts.
These mice, they were not always hers, but those of her grandmother’s, kindly given to her by her own mother after her grandmother’s passing. There were several other things she inherited: the manger, though the upstairs of it is falling slightly and one of the sheep has come unglued; the three wise men, though somewhere along the way one of the wise men must have made a wrong turn and headed into another box, lost among the wreckage of a failed first marriage; and a small mailbox, decorated with greens, holly, and ribbons, festive, but vintage looking. She takes them out of the box gingerly and knows they will be used. She looks at the rest of the boxes, so many. Does everything need to be displayed?
The wind continues to whip and she drags another box out of the musty room, sees the ornaments. “Our First Christmas Together.” She holds it up and squints to see the small picture that dwells inside of it. Only thirteen years ago, yet it feels so much longer, she thinks. She remembers their first tree, in an apartment in Baltimore, stuffed into the corner of the diminutive dining room. She looks around their house. She’s come a long way from those days, and smiles at the feet she hears coming down the stairs.
“Mom, what are you doing?” they say in unison as they see the mess that surrounds her.
“Pulling out the stuff. It’s time to decorate.”
“Can we help?” they say. She nods. She can’t look at them.
“Are you crying, Mom?”
They see that she is, that it’s more than just time to decorate. She loves their innocence. That they don’t feel the passage of time.
She hugs them, still avoiding eye contact, and holds them tightly. As if that will help.
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Thanks for reading. Have a good weekend, everyone! See you Monday.