Posts Tagged 'quick write'



Some days it is just good enough to be whatever it is you are. An editor, a dog walker, a speech therapist. Some other days it might be better to be the tool and not the operator of the tool. I’d like to be a pencil. Sharp, focused, correctible. Authoritative and yet open to revision. A pencil might suit me well. I might also like to be a drum. Round, tight, silent except when called to service – the drum has a voice, a ritual meaning, transcendentalist habits, a rhythm in the belly, rhythm all the way to the souls of the feet. I could be a drum. I could also be a thief, stealing moments, eavesdropping on the lives and whispers of strangers and friends. I could be a thief without jewels, lifting the unvalued, leaving no fingerprints. I could be a window, looking out on everything, cold and clear and just. I could be a rug, honest and flat, unemotional, willing to wear dirt, willing to be shaken in the open air.  I might be a pet rock, a solid chunk of marketing sitting on a shelf, in a box, in a garage, in someone’s grandmother’s house. I could be an ice cube, temporary, cool, transient. Put me on your eyes, put me in your gin and tonic, put me anywhere absolution is needed and I will handle it for you. I might be a bowl, hugging those things that shouldn’t go flying off unattended. Your keys. Your pennies. Your yogurt. Your soup. Rely on me – I am a bowl. I could be a piece of paper. Lined, unlined. Blank, full. Waiting, smooth or crushed, for whatever comes next.


He’s not . . . not an evil man. Not exactly. It’s just that he was, he is, willing to celebrate the end of anything. He is a bon vivant with an entourage of witty and vicious followers. He specializes in predicting bad endings. Divorces, deaths, the sinking of ships, the collapsing of world economies, the final performance of long-running musical comedies. His record is impeccable. It is said that if Mr. Jules Vernon Quigley is seen leaving the scene of virtually anything, that anything was undoubtedly doomed. In an interview with Life Magazine in 1967, he said quite explicity, in reference to himself, that those who are not mistaken can make no mistake.

There was, therefore, a certain irony, when Mr. Quigley’s run of accurate predictions of failure came to a sudden end. Many people who might have thought more of themselves were pleased, so very pleased, to watch Quigley fall.

It was a peekaboo summer, the kind where things catch the eye and then disappear suddenly. Fashions were unpredictable, entertainment surprisingly good, the beaches were clean and the children did not fight over their doodley-doos, calling instead to Nanny to bring it here and give us a song, there’s a good nanny. Nanny would bring the doodley-doo out from the pocket in her deep apron, where she’d put it away after a series of unpleasant incidents involving six-year-olds, nine-year-olds, and several weeping toddlers.

The name of the movie was Nanny and the Island of the Doodley-Doos. It was released on June 8th, roughly one week into summer vacation and 6 days before the children would begin to be bored and ill-mannered. Mr. Quigley did not see the movie – he did not have to, he said, he could smell it even from a great distance. 

“The beyond is still out there, as on tiptoes here we stand,” cried our young hero, clutching the doodley-doo in his hand. Behind him the sad father figure leans into the wind, still thinking of the maiden he’d left far behind. He imagines her living in a foreign palace, stroking a tiger head pillow, alone and lost in a strange kingdom, waiting for release.  All in all, the very type of revolting movie premise that Quigley’d never been wrong about before.

The tale of the doodley-doo, though, had a mysterious staying power.

(This is “found” fiction – grab a handful of books off your shelves, choose some phrases at random, use them in a quick writing exercise. Not a way to make “done” writing, but good for warm-up.)


In the clattering crowded mechanical toy factory, the toys had no ears. The tracks and pullies and conveyor belts and cranes lifted and lowered all of the levers and bolts, the brackets and wombas that, once assembled, went out into the heavy air of the city and were placed on the shelves of the city’s toy stores. The toy stores were filled with shrill bamboozling and pounding electric rhetoric, all rhythmic and clashing, and the mechanical toys were lined up, one by one by one, in the aisles with their blinking lights and sale signs. The toys swiveled their mechanical heads on their clockwork necks, side to side. The store was bright and smelled of motor oil and air freshener. The toys could not smell the smells, could not hear the sounds, but could see clearly, with their painted metal eyes, everything and everyone in the store. The swiveling heads of the toys took in the swiveling heads of the people who walked through the stores, rotating their people heads from side to side, withdrawing or advancing toward things randomly, it seemed, to the toys who had no ears. The small people, in particular, ran close up to things with cylinders and bells, pulling on the big people’s hands and moving their mouths in big, open shapes. Sometimes they screwed their eyes shut and liquid squirted out. Sometimes the big people picked up the little people and carried them outside, to sit on a bench until the little one’s face had stopped leaking.

One day, as one might expect, a sort of magic mechanical elf appeared in the biggest toy store. Unlike the round-eyed mechanical toys with their watchful ways, the elf had pointed metal ears, rather large for his head, and he brought ideas to the others that they’d never considered before. At night, the elf went into the supply room, where he found small scraps of metal and a soldering iron and curly metal shards that made lovely hair for the mechanical toys that framed their new ears quite nicely. Quickly he worked through the night and into the next day, which was Sunday and the store was closed. Just as the sun was rising on that Monday, every toy in the store touched their mechanical ears with their cool metal fingers. The storekeeper came in and pulled on the shade that covered the front window.

“Snap!” said the shade. “Twingle-ingle-ingle” said the bell at the top of the door. A row of mechanical toys fell on the floor, writhing with surprise. The storekeeper, who was himself a bit hard of hearing, turned on the radio, the lights, the bamboozlers and the wombas, and set all the cranes and pulleys into motion. The electric trains started up with a shrill squealing sound, and more toys fell off their shelves, rolling in agony from side to side, covering their ears, looking with their eyes for that elf, the elf and his magic tricks, and then the children came in with their crying and laughing and shouting, and then the toys found the elf, found the elf on a shelf under the cash register, near the shop keeper, and he stayed there all day, until the shopkeeper went home and the store was silent once again. The toys with their ears came for him, then, with their mechanical arms raised, metal eyes sparking. Next morning, every toy had simple round heads with round simple eyes, and the elf was never seen in the city any more.


At the graduation the handful who were not graduating but attending nonetheless gathered in the handicapped restroom, the first handicapped restroom in the state. Bigger than a standard one person stall, less bustable than a walk-in men’s room. The tallest of them assumed the responsibility of improvising a pipe, which he made with a toilet paper tube and a bit of aluminum foil taken from a chicken parfait, an introductory and ultimately failed offering from Wendy’s, which at that time still had Dave speaking for himself on the commercials, where he played the role of benign protestant mid-western Colonel Sanders, with a dash of the great and powerful Oz thrown in.

The smoke. The tallest. The graduation.  Deming was experiencing a resurgence of sorts, a resurgence surprising for a town that had never had much of a surge in the first place. Deming, New Mexico. A destination in the middle of nowhere, railroad cars filled with iron lungs, one car after another, in the tubercular days of 100 years ago. The sun, the air, the dry hot blue climate sold itself to the bleeding lungs of northeasterners with money and their pale little children, who coughed blood into their handkerchiefs and either died in Deming or did not die in Deming.

The underwear favored by the gently wheezing young ladies at the Deming Women’s Sanitorium was billowy and typically of thin white linen, suitable for the dry hot climate. They would lie, languid and bored, with ribbons in their hair, in their white linen bloomers in the iron lung that would save them and send them back to New York, to Boston, to Connecticut. The ribbons were died in the pretty spring colors of a cooler, wetter climate – periwinkle, saffron, lilac, pale pink peony.

The young ladies lay in their iron lungs thinking of dances, thinking of young men, thinking of meringues.  Some of them are buried in the cemetery in Deming, and they have names like flowers, too. Flowers and gemstones; the young women of the early twentieth century were prone to swooning, dying young, and living to see another day.

One such young woman was raised in the Deming Sanitorium, having been sent there as a seven-year-old. Her name was Daisy – yes, this is true – and her papa had been an entrepreneur, a boastful man prone to self-deception and untimely truthful revelations to shareholders. Daisy’s papa, it is said, was single-handedly responsible for some runs on some banks, helping to trigger the domino effect that revealed certain inconsistencies in banking practices of that last century. In the middle of Daisy’s rest cure, while the mechanical lung pushed and pulled her ambivalent relationship with survival itself, a man with a shovel smashed Daisy’s father’s head in, leaving her an orphan very far away from anyone who knew or cared anything about her. Her mother, having succumbed already some time earlier to the consumption that lay Daisy low, had nothing to offer, and so, Daisy was on her own.

A spot of gothic romance

His eyes met hers. Her eyes met his. Their eyes met. Above their heads, black clouds formed, the winds began to howl and shake. Someone must die.

“In these terrible times, sir, I find it best to speak rarely and gently,” she said, looking back down at her needlework. Her voice was light and firm.

“Yes, indeed, m’lady, I understand that a raised voice would be improvident,” he said, reaching to take the needlepoint from her hands. She resisted only briefly. Pulling the white linen back, he revealed beneath it a letter, open and sitting in her lap. One eyebrow lifting slightly, he took the letter, folded it and slipped it into his cape.

“No need to worry about this, madam,” he said. “I will look after it until it is needed.”

“Yes, of course,” she responded, remaining seated, remaining composed, remaining convinced as ever that someone must die. Now quite certain which of them that might be.

 Outside were the sounds of preparation that had become common over these past few months. Horses and men, the smell of burning hooves as the animals were shod, the excited yells of small boys chasing soldiers and knights-in-training through the muddy streets. Enemies came in all forms in those days: enemies of state, illness, criminals and people made mad by poverty and dirt. The men in the castle held council after council, each beating the drum for his own reason. War. Glory, wealth, religion, property, power.

Who holds a woman’s letter over her head, leaving behind an unspoken threat? This young man has just taken a letter from the most dangerous woman of her place and time. Pity he did not recognize her; they’d met before, in other circumstances. If he had realized from whom he took the letter, the situation in which he eventually found himself might have been avoided altogether.

Local hero

Local hero falls in well; collie saves hero just in time for wedding.

Collie, calling “black hole, black hole” all over town to no avail, eventually leads the Korean police chief to the well, where local hero Fox Jagged had fallen in due to an excess of chocolate and walnut liqueur. Fox thanked Police Chief  Tang-O sincerely for the help in getting out of the hole; a community celebration was held, with band and tacos and kim chee and special occasion foods.  The band, “Contraband Cranberry”, played Argentinian polka until three the next morning, with an occasional breakout Mariachi piece, and a screeching migrainy music that turned out to be Bjork. The bride and groom will make their home in Korea Town; not far from family. The collie will live with the couple, who have named him Holly.

Belva Sparrow

(Prompts: taken from six books, chosen randomly. Write for 15 minutes.)

Grammar of justice, syntax of mutual aid. Drawing us from tree to tree toward the time and the unknown place where we shall know what it is to arrive. Not one by one, but in passionate clusters, we pressed the grapes to our lips. The room is small, the table plain.Later and older, now we had supper, a little. A grayish bird, the size, perhaps, of two plump sparrows.


Two plump sparrows sat on a limb on a tree on a cold winter day. The first sparrow, a philosopher, mumbled continuously about an unknown place.

An unknown place, he grumbled. An unknown place.

The other sparrow, whose name is Belva MacDonald, is given to homilies and humming.

“We shall know what it is to arrive,” says Belva. She sings a soaring and ratcheting song that tells all the songbirds where she is and what she is about.

In passionate clusters, the birds gather in the winter air, feathers inflated and steaming with fast, hot bird circulation. With an average resting heart rate of 500 beats per minute, the finch, the sparrow and the towhee compete for craving; which small bird wants the rose hip enough to take it out of the mouth of others?

Inside the small grey house, there is a window. In front of the window is a small table with two chairs, a salt shaker and a basket of walnuts. The walnuts smell musty. Belva pushes a walnut across the table with her beak, making a concentrating sound, click-click, ticketa-tick. The walnut falls to the ground and she lifts off and lands on the floor with a rustling of wings. The walnut, stubbornly remaining whole, rolls easily but does not give up its fruit. After a while, not very long, but long enough in sparrow time, Belva gives up on the walnut and returns to the table and from there to the window. She looks out the window, which has been closed for an eternity, or it may have been 15 minutes, in the life time of a small brown sparrow in a winter house with drafty corners. She sits, alone at first, but gradually, as the day warms, the other birds stir and join her, up there on the window sill, with the grey winter fields and the slash of mud where there’s been a frost and refreeze not three weeks ago.

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