Somehow on that muggy April morning, my humors were out of balance. My usual melancholic disposition was temporarily buried beneath a burst of the sanguine, and I managed to push past the day’s ill omens to find the scant silver linings. So what if I caused a fender bender outside a sketchy used car dealership? So what if my GPS pretended to know where we were going, only to dump me on the side of a four-lane highway like an unwanted infant? Sometimes bad things could be good luck, like rain on a wedding day.
January 13, 2016 was important for me. On that day, I, for the first time in my life, began taking a creative writing workshop class. Several of my friends, family members, and readers were surprised to learn this. Many of them said, “But you’ve already written two books! Don’t you already know how to write creatively?”
Well, yes and no. Yes, I am now quite comfortable with my abilities as a full-length fiction writer, but I would not (and probably will never) call myself an expert. There is always something new to learn, and I am an eager lifelong student.
The course I took focused mostly on short fiction and poetry, two forms that legitimately terrified me. While I’ve always enjoyed reading short stories and poems, I have not been inspired to write either in several years. I was skeptical about what I would be able to produce for the class, but nevertheless I soldiered on.
The results of our various writing exercises, discussions, and assignments comprise most of what you will find in this short, sweet read. Despite my initial misgivings, I was pleasantly surprised with the work I produced over those four short months, and after a few more rounds of editing, I have decided to share them with you.
I must warn you, these are nothing like the work I’ve shared before. If you’re looking for a companion piece to my novels, you will not find it here. But if you’re interested in traveling with me as we take short, compelling glimpses into the lives of those on the margins, you will enjoy reading this quick foray as much as I did writing it.
I am exhausted, but cannot sleep. My brain and body unite to fight my heart on this, tempting me with monstrous yawns and aching muscles and repeated glances at my digital clock which helpfully counts down the seconds to another drowsy, sleep-deprived day.
There is nothing wrong with me. I have ten fingers, ten toes, twenty-twenty vision (with glasses), two arms, two legs, one heart. Everything is fine, just fine, except for the unfortunate fact that I have been cleaved in two.
We are in a dark movie theater, semi-crowded for a Thursday matinee. “We” consist of the usual suspects: you, me, and two of our best friends, both conveniently named Jeremy. I take sips from my strawberry slushie until my body grows numb from the cold, and then I sit it down and warm my hands with yours.
“Don’t kid yourself. No one ever sends something to you in the mail because they care. They always want something from you. Remember that.”
Nina pauses, hands frozen in a strange cradling formation which holds the day’s mail together. She’s had a hard day, I can tell by the way her shoulders were hunched over when she walked through our front door just a few minutes ago, and I almost feel bad for making it worse.
Sarah stared at the open casket cradling her grandfather’s body and begged herself to feel something. Anything. The soft white tufts of hair sticking out around his face, the steep sudden slope of his nose—it should provoke something deep inside her, shouldn’t it? Something besides a slight dash of awkward, misplaced hope.
But no. Instead, it was as if someone had sliced her from chin to navel and scooped out all her emotions with a melon baller. She was hopeless.
Raindrops burst on my windshield like berries breaking, streaking the glass with their cold, clear blood. Within seconds of my hand stilling the wipers, everything in front of me becomes streaked and blurry and I am living in a Dalí painting.
Why did I tell the cashier that paper bags would be fine? They aren't fine. I hate them. I hate the way they look, like unlabeled moving boxes. I hate how hard it is to carry them up two flights of stairs, alone. I hate the musty, soggy cardboard smell they create the second water hits them.
But I didn't want her to judge me. I'm so sick of people judging me. Paper bags are the right choice to make, everyone says so, and this is not the hill I want to die on.