Monthly Archives: November 2013

Short fiction

Something a little different this week, short fiction. Enjoy.

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The tips of my ears were chilled; soon the cold would seep inside. It was much harder to get rid of an earache than to warm up cartilage, so I dug my headband out of my jacket pocket. To put it on, I had to take off my gloves. I did it as fast as I could, without bothering to fuss with my hair. It was cold enough that anyone passing by would be moving fast. They’d barely have time to register my presence, much less scoff at my appearance. Even though it only took a moment, by the time I got my gloves back on I’d begun to lose the feeling in my pinky fingers. I picked up my rake and went back to work.

The wind swirled the leaves around, teasing them away from their piles, but not carrying them too far. I reached out with the rake to gather them back, and then hurried to stuff them into the bag before the next gust. The sky was turning grey, threatening snow. Today was the last yard waste pickup of the season. Whatever didn’t get bagged and dragged to the curb would spend the winter trapped under the snow and ice, waiting to mock me in the spring.

I felt a drop on my face. The precipitation seemed ambivalent; raindrops with snowflakes mixed in. I wanted the snow to prevail because it would take longer for the damp to make its way through my jacket; my gloves; my sneakers. It was strange to rake in the snow, but not unheard of. Some years the snow began before Halloween. It certainly wasn’t unusual to begin before Thanksgiving. But I couldn’t finish raking until the trees decided to let go of their leaves and it was hard to predict when that would happen.

It was impossible to get any raking done after work. It was dark by the time I got home. That left weekends, when all the other chores competed for my attention. As long as there were bagels in the freezer and toilet paper in the bathroom I could put off shopping. With enough clean underwear I could ignore laundry. And dust never bothered me. Honestly, there wasn’t much competition for my time, not since Lizzie went off to college, which was all Jack had been waiting for. He left right after she did, claiming he’d been unhappy for years.

My nose was dripping. I used the back of my glove to wipe the snot away. The glove was abrasive. I heard a truck shift gears and looked up. Down the street I could see the recycling truck turning a corner. They would work through my neighborhood, snaking down one street and up the next, until they came to my corner. At most, I had another half hour, which would barely make a dent in the piles I had not yet made. My face got wetter, but this time I knew what it was. Tears added the taste of salt to the white flakes of snow.

I couldn’t do this alone. I wasn’t supposed to be doing this alone. I hauled my last half-filled bag to the curb and returned the rake to the garage. Soon enough snow would bury the leaves and I would forget they were there. If only it could all be that easy.

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Silence is elusive

I sit quietly, feeling contemplative. Slowly I become aware of the distant sound of traffic on the highway. Half a mile from my house, it is vague enough to escape my notice most of the time. During the day, when the neighbors are at work, my street is calm, but occasionally a car passes by and the disruption reminds me how grateful I am that the sounds of the highway are muffled.

Inside is calm; outside the wind gusts. The house reacts violently with sharp retorts; crackles and creaks that happen so fast I can’t identify from where they emanate. As the wind eases, the house settles and I can hear the remaining fall leaves rustle against each other as they strain to hang onto their branches.

The refrigerator clicks on and starts to thrum. I’m surprised. I thought it always ran, but when it stops again the silence is palpable. Except that it’s not silence; it’s only the absence of the sound the refrigerator makes. It’s a hole in the audible fabric.

My laptop, balanced on my crossed leg, hums. The white noise buffers my thoughts. Periodically the computer bleats to announce an email, or remind me that I’m supposed to be doing something else. When I’m working, the interruptions are jarring; unwelcome. If I’m distracted, they fuel my reluctance to return to work. Today, I am annoyed.

A gentle thump alerts me to the fact that the cat was somewhere she shouldn’t have been; the kitchen counter, a table. When I hear the thump it’s already too late to scold her. Besides, I didn’t actually witness her transgression. Maybe it was a poltergeist.

Across the house, our wall clock ticks. When I’m absorbed in my work I can’t hear it, but if I will myself to pay attention, to focus on my surroundings, the clock becomes intrusive. In film, there is something called rack focus. That is when the camera shifts focus from a subject in the foreground to one in the background or vice versa; one image is sharp, the other blurred. I wish there was a term for the audio equivalent.

I typically eschew solitude, equating it as I do with loneliness; quiet with despair. Ironically, I cannot work with music on, or the television. I can’t hear my inner voice if it has to compete with anyone else’s. Today, surrounded by sounds that I am not normally aware of, sounds that persist even when I am sitting quietly, I feel comforted. I am not alone: I am surrounded by the world. I am inspired by all the sounds of silence.

Butt in seat – now what?

The most oft-heard advice for would-be writers is, “Put your butt in the chair and do the work.” It sounds simple, doesn’t it? But what happens when you put your butt in the chair and your mind remains blank? NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) challenges writers to crank out 50,000 words during the month of November. I’ve written about this before, so rather than bore you with it again, I’ll just point you to that post so you can refresh your memory. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

When I wrote that post, three years ago, my imagination was all fired up and I was a writing machine. I’ve completed NaNoWriMo four times and each time I’ve emerged with content that I liked enough to continue working with it until it evolved into a passable manuscript. Last year, when NaNoWriMo rolled around, I was struggling to complete one of those manuscripts and my critique group convinced me that my time would be better spent finishing it, rather than creating yet another work-in-progress. I ended up frittering away the month and doing neither.

This year I was determined not to let November pass by without giving NaNoWriMo my best effort. It’s early days yet, but I’ve reached the conclusion that my best efforts are not going to be enough. I don’t have it in me. And when I say “it” I mean anything. During NaNoWriMo, if you’re stuck, you’re encouraged to type any words you can think up until you get your mojo back. No word source is forbidden; if you have to copy the phone book, go for it. I applaud that approach in concept and happily began the month without a plot in mind, instead, I captured my thoughts and feelings about what was going on in my life, whatever was top of mind at the moment I began to write. But it didn’t take long for me to lose my stomach for that exercise.

It’s not that there isn’t anything to say, quite the contrary. Life has been emotionally rich (not in a good way) and working overtime to provide me with great stories. My father’s been ill, my mom’s been ill, and at the same time, my boy cat, Boo, had to spend some time in the hospital. He came home and spent another few weeks with us before we finally put him to sleep a few days ago. Somewhere in there I had a fight with my sister. I apologized via email. She refused to accept my apology. (Tell me that that situation isn’t ripe with story potential.)

So you see, my problem is not a dearth of thoughts, or feelings, or events. My problem is that whatever inner mechanism turns those things into energy to run the creative engine is broken. I can put my butt in the seat, but I can’t do the work. Maybe when my parents’ situation stabilizes, and my daughter’s college applications are done, and I’m finished mourning the loss of my Boo-cat, the creative engine will kick back into gear.

boo on lap at hospital