This is a piece I wrote back in college. Rediscovered, tidied up and given some love! It's always been a story that I remembered writing but it's been many years since I've read it (9 years?!) I think it's one of my favorite pieces to this day. Thanks for reading! Hope you enjoy.
Donninger wore sunglasses as big as his head, bigger than his nose and elbows put together. It was like he was preparing for the sun to drop down from outer space to say hello, and he wanted to be able to look it in the eye when it did. The frames were silver, like the wings of an exotic bat and the lenses flashed blue then green then red as if they were reflecting the Christmas lights tacked to Jeffrey’s mother’s windows, the ones that lit up even in June and July.
It was July, in fact, on this day, when he wore his sunglasses, fly-like eyes scanning the beach for his beautiful babe. He knew he would find her here, because they were all beautiful in their strappy bathing suits and fresh skin, gleaming with oils and sprinkled with sea salt. But they weren’t all his, unfortunately. And it was his loss, not theirs, he knew this. They weren’t missing anything not having him in their lives, because there wasn’t much to him that one would like besides his big silver specks.
He didn’t have a real voice, and he didn’t have hairs on his chest. He gleamed in the sun, but it wasn’t oil on his skin, because he didn’t have skin either. He didn’t have a liver or toe nails. He had never experienced the strange sensation of vomiting, because he didn’t have a stomach and he didn’t eat. He never went to college, because he didn’t need to. All of the data he could ever want to know or need to know or could ever dream of knowing was born with him. Jeffrey had put it there.
This was written as an assignment for a fiction writing course on Character and Voice from the University of Iowa. I've gotten some feedback from other participants already and know I have a bit of reworking to do - development, and oy, so many adjectives here! Would love some feedback, especially with regards to cutting back on descriptions where they come off as too heavy, and identifying holes/questions/inconsistencies in the character/voice. Thanks, guys!
As a younger girl, Arana would sit atop the roof of her father's tool shed, following the curves of the bulbous island with her eyes, as if she were tracing the thin, hopeful lines of a treasure map. She could sit this way and dream of what might be hiding beyond the pregnant horizon for hours, or until her mother returned from the hospital, intent on bathing and brushing the girl - an intention that on most days led to an argument and a licking, followed by streams of silent tears drip-dropping into the murky, gray water of the warm bath. On the evening her mother failed to return, Arana sat on the shed until the moon had traversed the entirety of the sky and fell back out of sight again. She had been so enthralled by the glistening of the cosmos, unremitting and seemingly hers, that she hadn't taken note of the passage of time or the unexpected bought of solitude, until the cry of a baby pierced the foggy air and interrupted Arana's blissful encounter with the night.
A "Children's Story" using the words: flabbergasted, color, paper, broken, eloquent, rancid, lily, frothy, pink, jittery
Lily walked along the curve of a jungle path dreaming in color. The trees stood guard all around her, as far as she could see. They whispered stories of animals who, like monsters, waited in the shadows for an opportunity to eat--their favorite meal, a little girl, just like her. The thought made her jittery, but she feigned confidence as her father had taught her to, skipping along in a defiant act of courage. She was eloquent, for a 10-year-old, in a long, pink dress that snagged on the brush with every other step.
She carried on this way in the direction of home for half an hour, until her legs tired and she sat down on the broken limb of a tree that seemed to have fallen for this very purpose. She held back a yawn with a sly smile, which she inherited from her mother. She sat thinking about the woman until she heard the cracking of footsteps on fallen sticks.
“How do you feel?” Her question was innocent enough, but the sound of her voice drove me mad.
“I’m fine,” I answered, adding, “thanks,” in an effort to mask my irritation. I knew it was uncalled for, but that didn’t diminish it any. I wanted to be alone.
“Can I get you anything? Maybe…”
“No,” I nearly barked it. “Well, actually…”
“Yes?” She hung there, desperate to feel needed.
“Ah, I couldn’t ask you to do that. It’s too far. Never mind, I’m alright,” I said, letting it linger.
“No, what is it? Anything to help you feel better,” she said, and I knew that she meant it.
“Of course,” she said, showing her worth.
“Even Rainbow Cone?” I lobbed the question right over the plate. She looked at me, puzzled.
“Rainbow Cone? Like…the ice cream place? The one on the south side?”
“Yes, that’s the one! Big cone, all those flavors. My mom used to take me there when I was kid. I can’t think of anything that would make me feel better than one of those big cones. Like a taste of childhood, you know?” It spun in an easy arc heading straight for her bat.
“Well yea, I guess. I mean, it’s a bit far, don’t you think? It’ll melt before I get back here.” She was right. A hush fell over the crowd.
“Oh,” I said, trying my best to look dejected. I wondered if that old place was even open anymore. “Yes, I guess you’re right.”
“Aw, jeez, Dan. Don’t look so sad! I’ll do it. What the hell, melted or not, it’ll still taste good, right?” Crack, boom! She shot it out of the park.
“Babe, you’re the best. Thank you.” I kissed her on the forehead and rolled back over in bed. I could hear her there for a few minutes more, packing up her purse and putting on her sneakers, the jingling of keys. I couldn’t wait to hear that door open and shut. I smiled when it did, leaving me lying in sweet silence.
Never did i dream that the silence would last for so long, that she wouldn’t come back to me. That wrapped up in this silence I would suffocate in guilt, for sending her away that day. Sending her to tragedy, to her death. That beautiful girl who wanted nothing but to love me, an undeserving man. No, a monster.
Annie turned the light off. Once underneath the black of night, the walls came alive with things, the likes of which she had never seen. Long necks, feathered beaks pecking at their own pale flesh; their legs, short and thick, were covered in spikes that rustled like trees in a stern breeze. They were animals, from some world other than her own.
She stood, still frozen, between her bed and the doorway, assessing both routes for a safe escape. The covers on her bed, she knew, were shields against the most harrowing of enemies (which, of course, these were.) But outside that doorway and a quick sprint down the hall, her father slept. Even in the darkness, he would protect her. Just like he had from the ghosts on Easter night and the giant bugs she swore and invaded her closet last fall. He wasn’t afraid of anything, ever. He didn’t even cry at the doctor. And he had to go there a lot.
Annie jumped - she heard something coming from the direction of her bed. Faint as it was, she heard it. And she ran, her legs weary with fear - out the door and down the hall, her feet slapping down onto carpet all the way.
“Dad! Daddy!” she screamed for him like a firework bursting through the door. “Daddy, it’s…there’s something…dad!”
She looked up from her father’s sleeping face to see her mother, sitting silent on the edge of the bed. Her eyes stared, blank as a doll’s, but they were glistening wet. Annie’s gut dropped from her body. A terrifying sensation took hold as she struggled for a breath. She tried to call to him one more time, to scream, “Wake up!” But she couldn’t, and she knew he couldn’t either.
Who would save her now, she wondered, as she fell to the floor - the bird things, the ghosts, the snakes and the rats closing in all around her. Once again the lights went out, and Annie thought she might drown in the dark. She wanted to.
** Back posting after a long hiatus from the blog! This was a popcorn writing exercise with the Surat Warriors. Required words were: light, underneath, walls, flesh, breeze, between, escape, darkness, ghosts, faint, weary, silent, sensation,
The following piece was written in response to a Scrabble-style small group writing exercise at our most recent writer's retreat in Khanom. (Check out the main writing page for more info on this exercise and for other exercises and prompts!)
The words we came up with for this exercise were: Both, box, owl, half, hope, sex, sing, nut, oat, told, dorms, PJs, mug, glow, and wig
I remember it, but whether my memory of it matches what it was in reality, I just don't know. In my head, it was a good thing. We both wanted it, and neither of us had had it before. But it wasn't about that, it wasn't just sex, just "busting a nut." Truth be told, I think we were hoping for something else entirely, something profound. It seems silly now, looking back at it. Two kids living in adjacent college dorms, half way to adulthood, thinking that what had finally arrived was real life. When in reality, I still slept in mismatched PJs and his favorite meal was Lucky Charms from a coffee mug. It would be years before we knew the difference between a bread crumb and a rolled oat. We were just kids.
The following snippet was written in response to a Who, What, Why, Where When writing exercise. The criteria we came up with for the prompt were:
Who: A giraffe
What: Wants a job
Why: Would like to feel human
Where: New York
The year was 2025, and if there was anything Leef was sure of, it was that he was alive. Standing six meters tall on four legs like twigs, Leef's living was not something that could be easily ignored. It was noted by the keepers at his former prison - err - home (the zoo) when Leef took a running start and, using his captors as a springboard, shot himself over the fence and into his newfound freedom. There he stood, somewhere in the midst of New York City, where his living once again was being noticed by the shoppers lining the street, gawking and awing at the sight of him: Long neck, hoofed feet, spots warm and brown against his yellow mustard skin. "Could it be?" the people asked themselves. Yes, it could be, and yes he was. A giraffe. Leef couldn't know for sure, but he suspected he was one of the last. And the way these people stared and cowered, he thought it must be the case.
This is a short story that I originally wrote in response to a competition called "Family Matters." Based on a true story, this is a fictionalized tale of my childhood and the disappearing, so to speak, of my aunt and uncle around 13 years ago. It definitely feels strange to be posting something so closely resembling reality - please know that creative liberties were definitely taken in the telling of this story, and it was written out of a place of utmost love. Aunt Di was always one of the biggest supporters of my art (my favorite birthday gift to date is the art table that is still in my old bedroom at my mom's house), and I like to think that she'd appreciate the attempt to turn her story into something creative and even a bit creepy. I miss you always, Auntie Didi! I hope you enjoy the story, wherever you are.
The apartment had been empty, except for Lucy, for so long that she had lost track of the months. She sat watching the light rise through the bedroom window and set over the kitchen sink for days at a time, no sleeping. She couldn't bother trying to stomach the last packet of crackers lying just outside her reach on the hardwood floor. Her hunger had left her not long after Thomas and their little boy.
Something short I came across in my old files. Written last June here in Suratthani. One of those pieces that I'm sure at the time I thought was nothing, but finding it again now, I want to know where it was going, where it came from. It's nice to see one's own writing in this light.
when the pin drops
He said to me, it has always been you. Different chapters, different books, call it what you will. You did not materialize at age twenty-whatever, you do not get to shed that skin, you are a human. You have always been. And I said to him, you are right. Like you have always been, or usually are at least. How is that you see me? So truly, and so deeply?
Like everything else that has ever existed, we started as a mere possibility. One that I may have glossed over in my peripheral, unknowingly, and let go of immediately. But a seed is a seed, and this one was buried deep. So deep that I didn't feel it growing in me, not until the days turned into years and our circumstances, winding around the world like vines, once again brought him into my life. Sometimes you don't realize you have been sitting in silence until the pin drops. Suddenly I heard music.
I don't remember the first time we kissed, or who initiated it. But what ensued. What ensued shook me like an earthquake, it shifted my plates. My foundation would never be the same. From the inside, I watched the egg break.
Chicago-born citizen of the globe, rich in the things that really matter. Let's get weird.