Posts Tagged 'freewrite'

Guilt

“Tell me why you feel guilty.”

That’s how he started our interview.

“Pardon?” I asked.

“Tell me why you feel guilty.”

And such is the nature of this economy that I, fresh bachelor’s degree in hand, attempted to tell him why I feel guilty. Guilty.

“Are you an only child?” he asked next.

“I’m not a child,” I said. He laughed, and pushed his chair back. He handed me his bag and asked me to take it down to baggage check for American Airlines at the Albuquerque Sunport. The attendant at baggage claim would be waiting for it, he said. He shook my hand. Payment when I get back, he said.

I don’t feel guilty. Just stupid, and fearless, and excited. Even as I carried it from short term parking to baggage check, tucked snugly against my chest, I could feel the weight of it pressing against me. Heavy as sand.

I’ll tell you why I feel guilty, but not today. I am one of many daughters in my family, too many daughters, they always said. Raise girls, dad said, but not too many. Once raised, you have to train them.

You might say I am an example of good training gone wrong. It’s been two weeks now. As I stand here on this narrow path that leads up to the lighthouse, I can see the sea strain to climb up on the land. The salt wind burns cold and hot against my face. If those are tears, they are not mine. I do not feel guilty.

 

Feast

My mother ran the kitchen like clockwork and there was nothing that made her happier than preparing the annual summer family feast. Out of doors appetites are apt to be huge, and mother never let anyone go away hungry.

The year I turned seven was the first year I was allowed to help. While mother washed potatoes, got out bottles of pickles and okra and complained about the cost of flour, I ran to-ing and fro-ing, getting her the things she hadn’t known she’d want until just that moment.

“Tell Edwin to sharpen that axe,” she’d say, and I’d run outdoors and tell him quick as that.

“Take the buttermilk out of the cellar,” she’d say, and I’d bring it up, thick and chilled in a crockery pitcher.

“There’s elderberry wine for your uncle William,” she’d say. “Just leave it there for now, I don’t want to be giving it out to the whole family.” I went down there anyway and tasted it. Not very good. Kinda sour and bitter, not near as good as cough syrup.

The week went by fast, multiple preparations, pies to make, chickens to kill. Old chickens are stringy and tough, but bake them long enough in buttermilk in a deep casserole with a lot of potatoes and they come out okay. It was a hard year, I guess, but a feast is a feast, even if it’s spread a little thin.

Fortunately for us, there was a salesman came by in a wagon passing by on his way from Kansas to California. He had what he called crudités in his wagon, which looked like picked cauliflower and carrots to me, but it had a good sound to it. He talked to mother about how to handle chicken to keep it tender. Resist the temptation to toss, he said, while showing her how to handle those scrawny wrung out birds like they were made of silk, turning them gently in the flour then dunking in egg and browning them like they were royal damn peacocks or something.

What you need is some bigger meat for your feast, he said. And some fresh greens. I got a friend in Lawrence been raising lettuce and cucumber. Mother didn’t know about that. They sounded French to her. She’d also figured out that this salesman was probably going to hang around long enough to get himself invited. Father said go get it, then. He always did want to have the biggest best newest of everything, French or not, and especially so at the annual feast. So the salesman went, and came back with slabs of ribs lying on ice, with lettuce and cucumbers wrapped in soft cloths and tucked in between. 

Cookie

Using your fingers, mix the flour, sugar, water and vanilla into a light, pliable dough. Chill the dough for 30 minutes. While the dough is chilling, get your grandfather’s portable Remington out of the closet, where it’s been sitting since 1986. Dust it off with a microfiber cloth and a toothbrush to loosen the keys. Put the Remington on the kitchen table and make a cup of coffee.

Put a sheet of paper into the Remington. Adjust the ribbon, winding it first one way and then another until you find a bit of ribbon still inked. Dust the breadboard with sifted flour. Roll out the dough into a thin sheet. Pull the arm to roll the paper firmly in place.

Cut the dough into 2-3 inch squares. Press firmly on the A key. Type a sentence about a dog jumping over a fence. Keep your chin up. Typing is hard. Turn to your friends for advice. Your mother says something about the ribbon and a bobbin, but her mind is wandering again.

As the keys begin to loosen up, you may discover an unexpected treasure. Turn the oven on to 350 and wait for it to warm.

While the oven is warming, type as quickly as you can with your fingers pounding like hammers or like nails on the railroad, which was built by hard-working Chinese and Mexican laborers 150 years ago, and whose fingerprints are on it still.

Type your sentences, your bromides, your homilies, your dichos, in as many languages as you can think of and have the accent marks for.

Cut the paper into strips. Lay one strip into each 2-3 inch square of dough. Fold on a diagonal, like a baby’s nappy, an empanada or a lumpia. Lay each baby on an ungreased cookie sheet and pop it in the oven.

Fortune smiles on those who wait. An old friend will give you advice this week. Enjoy what nature has to offer.

Using a hot pad for safety, remove the cookies from the oven. Let cool. Repeat three times a week.

Jinx

Virginia Frances Sterrett, 1928.

This year she is solitary and she looks ill. You know, you’ve seen it before. Maybe it’s even been you.

We are a pretty clever set, I fancy, but we have a good many advantages. Being solitary is not one of our advantages. We are joiners, we support, we advocate, we are featured in our local papers. We are social and cultural, we contribute to our communities. You know us.

The people I love the best jump into work head first. This was a surprise to me at first, but in retrospect, I can see that this was, I don’t know, predictable or inevitable. Predictable or inevitable – how are those words alike, how are they different?

When I met Ginger 20 years ago, she went by Jinx. She was a red-headed girl, newly married and boisterous in her outlook. “Is marriage a constraint or a comfort?” She asked during gin nights in our newly married club in the Silicon Valley. This was a very good question at the time, much discussed, and support groups supported questioning and affirmed affirming. Her eyes were often red.  She does not go by Jinx anymore. Or by Ginger. She goes by her birth name, Elizabeth, or Betty, and that suits the person she is now.

This year she is solitary and she looks ill. When I realized she was ill I was transported suddenly and unexpectedly into those years before, when our advantages were both meta-analyzed and taken for granted. She looks ill, like a charcoal sketch of herself drawn by a weak hand, smudged and only recognizable to me who watched the sketch being made.

 The past is a zesty remembrance some days, and a muddy sack cloth clinging, dragging me down on others. She never knew how robustly her love defended me against the collapse of my pride. Or maybe she knew. Maybe we talked about it endlessly, that spiraling rondele of confessional friendship that is as reassuring as a nursery rhyme. Fri Felipe Fri Felipe duermes tu duermes tu. Toca la campana toca la campana, tan tan tan, tan tan tan.

I hear the church bells ringing this morning. The birds sing non-denominational songs. The Ginger-that-was left her husband and that predictability to marry a king of an exotic country, the UAE or Morocco or some such. I won’t say which one, and I should say that Ginger, Jinx and Elizabeth are not her real names. The king has had his revenge, and Ginger is home again, here in the cool foggy land on the west coast of the great experiment.

She is living with me, secretly, in hiding, and she is ill. When I answered her call, it was late for now, but early for then. Around midnight. Meet me in the Mission District, I will be wearing a mud cloth jacket that hangs below my knees. I took her home to my second divorce apartment in the Haight – little remnants of that early assumed privilege. She is feverish and talks a lot. I know too much – I suppose she will have to kill me, but that is a joke not to be repeated.

“I have someone else’s eyes in my head” she says, she moans, repeatedly, for hours until the fever has broken and then she looks pale again and docile as a china doll.

The king does not know yet that she still lives, and it will be a challenge to keep it that way.

Simila says what she knows

The king knows my heart.

In the distance, I hear the wistful baying of the dag-vark, calling their prey out of safe dens. Strange, isn’t it, how the innocent, helpless creatures of every world are so easily seduced? It has always been so, though, and so it was for me.

The king knows my heart, and I, I know something of his mind, and thus am able to control certain small things without his knowing exactly what I do. His heart, though, is still a mystery to me. It is a mystery that keeps me alive, at his discretion.

How did I get to this point, 3.6 light years from my youth, hurled through space in the great lemming-like panic of year 7147? All of us, every light haired, mossy green one of us was thrown by giants from one world to another. Then a sudden, heavy silence, and then the suns came up, one, two, three. Number four was Varg-ner, my king.

The king knows my heart. What I know is that, alone, I made horrifying mistakes that I never would have made in community.

Community. There is a word that sticks in my throat. I am the only one of my kind on this world. We, all of us, all of us communal and bound to one another through something that is not blood, not exactly, but is the closest I can come to naming it, were tagged and shipped with our various talents to the planets of my king. One of us per planet. My king’s fear is that two of us, together on a single planet, might link through blood and an unrelenting passion for the secrets of our home planet, and turn it all back. 3.6 light years back. Back to the time before this, or forward to the time after.

 7147

“Hold on,” he said softly to the woman, and they took the last step. She turned her face to his, and as the lights came on around them, she watched as his face broke and spread and shot away from her, trails of light, a comet of remembrance, a path that would lead her back to him again some day. However many light years it took.

Brimnook stood in the open spaces of his designated planetary assignment. Trees proliferated here, multivariate trees, branches reaching and writing, word trees spinning words to be harvested and fed to the CGS farms, where words generated and regenerated in a tightly controlled process that Brimnook oversaw, he being the migrant editor of the 7th planet occupied by Varg-ner when the troubles came. The sick trees Brimnook beat, or cut down, or burned. Or hid. For his eventual return, following the path left by his home-mate, his moss green woman, the woman who fed him words to sustain him through all of this time, travel, travail and now, through the secret door that would take them all back home.

 

Home

When I finally got home, I nosed around hesitantly, as if I were an intruder in a forbidden kingdom. This, though, was my kingdom – no, our kingdom. Where we’d been there was no word for “we,” or “us”. My job had been to cut all such words out of the bleeding trees and to destroy them. The king, though, although he knew my heart, did not know my mind, and it was a bittersweet task to betray him by taking those words, us, ours, yours and mine, we, and using them to collapse his interplanetary kingdom, as gently as pulling a string, as tipping over a single tile, as tossing one small stone down a steep mountainside.

(30 minutes, Monday writing group. Genre fiction – romance and sci-fi standard terminology blended.)

 

Sheets

You still linger. Oh, you fool.

But that’s it. Beds. How glad I am. Even though we fit together, quietness and emptiness, like stacked spoons. But you still linger. You fool. You say and you mean it that I was coddled too much from life already. Coddled. Like an egg, I was coddled. That gentle coddling makes a woman soft, is that a problem?

Alright, I got coddled too much from life already, Faithy said and brought the iron down on the ironing board and the steam billowed off of the damp sheets. 

It’s a problem, it’s a crime. Let women get soft and then what? Then what? I’ll tell you what – everything falls apart, that’s what. Glory didn’t believe in women being soft, that’s what she said, that’s what she told us and told her kids too.

She and Faithy looked out the corner of their eyes at each other, both of them with their hot metal and the steam turning their faces pink and shiny. Pssshh, bang – the irons come down hard and hot on the damp sheets and the steam rises again.

Beds. How glad I am, how glad I am for flat ironed sheets and open windows of spring.

You still linger. You fool. It’s laundry day and on laundry day Faithy often goes to town in the cart with the washer woman and her children. There, the children go to the market for apples and sweets, deliver the laundry to the two or three houses that can afford clean pressed sheets, pressed and wrapped in brown paper and delivered on laundry day. On a good day, when you open the paper, the sheets are still warm and smell of steam and potential.

Faithy shakes the sheets out and spreads them over the bed and pulls tight at the edges, tucking in with the flat of her hands. Sometimes in the sleepy afternoon she feels a pair of arms around her waist as she bends to smooth the sheets, pulling her down onto the fresh made bed. Some days she lingers over the making of the bed, the fool, waiting to be coddled, waiting to be stretched tight like a warm sheet on a sunny morning.

You still linger, she says to herself. She touches her lips, a remembrance, and wraps her arms around her waist, holding, coddling, waiting.

 

(Writing practice: This is a found story. How to: Grab some books off a shelf and quickly choose two phrases from each. Set a timer and write freely, either using the phrases directly, or allowing them to influence the direction of the writing.

This piece has phrases from Gertrude Stein, Grace Paley, Arundati Roy, and a smidge of Victorian poetry, don’t remember the details. This is a 15 minute writing practice, lightly edited.)

 

Lina Jean

This is the true story of the spontaneous combustion of Lina Jean Morrow. She was the type of girl who was all legs and buck teeth at seven, all blonde glamour at thirteen, and all ashes and crispy burnt skin before she was 19.

Lina Jean Morrow’s life was short and bright and hard. There were few things Lina enjoyed more than sunning herself like a lizard in the spring air, which made the family laugh when she was their baby girl but made them mad and maddened as she grew into those teeth. She was a tall girl, a tall girl with a habit of looking over the shoulder of whoever she was talking to, causing many people to turn around and look behind themselves to see who she was addressing.  It was just Lina Jean’s way. The way she talked was slightly foreign, an accent that was not exactly refined or delicate, but satisfying and exotic, the way other people’s family dinners can be. Familiar but not family. That’s what Lina’s cousins said, when they talked about the conbustion.

Before she combusted, the cousins had a regular comedy routine of walking behind Lina, walking her runway walk, sticking out their teeth to imitate her bucktooth pouty lip ways. Most of the time, Lina ignored them, but once in a while one of them would pull on her hands, throw themselves at her feet and beg her to marry them, while the others punched each other, laughing til they fell down in the dirt. Lina kicked a cousin or two, and once announced, over her cousin Ned’s shoulder, that if he was her husband, she’d shoot his dick off, which should have been funny but instead caused a whole lot of cousins to stay away from her for a few weeks. Ned said he had dreams about that, the way she looked over his shoulder, like she was looking for the knife, he said.

One day, Lina was sunning herself like a lizard on a warm rock on a spring day and her baby toe caught on fire. A little trickle of smoke appeared and she looked at it, like she was admiring a pedicure or thinking about what color of polish to put on. The smoke turned to a bright red flame and traveled up the top of her foot and along her thin shin bones and from there spread suddenly, and the cousins said the heat could be felt two counties away. Ned, who was across the state line looking for work, turned his head and looked back over his shoulder. He could see the line of smoke turn oily and black, and he felt Lina Jean burn white hot, watched her skeleton soften and emit a fragile ghostly crunch. He has blisters on his face to this day to prove that he witnessed her last moments, and no one in Stitch County has ever doubted him.


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