Writing Exercise #56

She loved that he tasted like tea. They acted a little like they weren’t sure how this would go; like they’d never been this close before. But they had. This was how it used to go: they would bare their souls to each other and then make out like teenagers. He tasted like black tea and when she buried her face in his neck, his smell was like an awakening.

He smiled at her, she at him. Familiar faces, kind eyes. They had both seen each other cry. He kissed her and she kissed him. His five-o’clock shadow was a little rough on her skin and later she would feel the heat from his whiskers on her cheek as she drove home. The tension that usually filled the air around them had evaporated and suddenly it was just the two of them, unchaperoned by the reality that usually kept them in check.

They finally stepped away from each other, the spell broken, the night suddenly cold again. “No frost tomorrow, clouds coming in.” He said. “Yeah.” She replied. She always wanted more from him. “It’s past my bedtime.” She said. “Talk to you tomorrow.” He replied.

Disappointment and the aching need for his touch curled around her like a scratchy blanket as she pulled out of the parking lot. His headlights in her rearview mirror for a few blocks and then gone. She willed him to call her, to tell her that he needed her, had to have her, wanted her to meet him somewhere…anywhere…but the phone stayed stubbornly silent beside her as she drove.

She realized that in the deep seeded friendship they had; would always have, they were equals, but anything more than that and she would be the one who loved more. She hated that her tears tasted like pity but she smiled and thought again how she loved that he tasted like tea.

4/6/2011: Five Minute Stream of Consciousness Exercise

(Documenting thoughts as they occur – this may or may not make much sense…)

9:49am: I was laying in bed last night trying to sleep. Thoughts kept rushing into my head about past jobs and things I would have liked to have said or done, things I can obviously do nothing about but obsess over anyway. I thought about what I would have liked to have said to my last boss at the newspaper about how insane she was. But when I think about that kind of thing I have to also think about how I let that situation or person make me feel so crappy. If I were a lesser person, maybe I could put blame on other people and leave it at that but ultimately; aren’t we responsible for what happens to us? Aren’t we accountable for how other people and situations make us feel? My Mom always says that you can’t control what people say or do to you but you can control how you react. My Mother is a beautiful genius.

So while I lay there pointlessly regurgitating past arguments last night (as I do most nights) it comes to me…I must have something missing. There must be some little naive thing in me that everyone else “gets” but I am clueless to. I try to be self-aware but the reality is; there must be a vibe that I put out there that must be just like kryptonite to Superman.  I feel like I’m missing the micro-chip for “playing the game.” I mean, aside from just working hard and learning…why do I also have to deal with office politics? Can I just say here and now that I don’t care? Why can’t we all just be who we are and work like adults? I don’t really want to have to play any games. Aren’t we a bit old for that by now?  9:56am (a little over five minutes)

Dialogue – Exercise #1 page 115

Task: Write a scene in which a character’s body, as well as his/her mind, is engaged in doing something.

“What happened to Emory?” I ask my sister Sam.

“Who’s Emory?” She is up to her knees in clothes and newspapers.

“You know, Emory! My teddy bear from when I was a kid!” How could she not remember Emory? She was the one who painted his ears green with watercolors that turned out to be more like oil based acrylics.

“Good God Mae, what kid names her teddy bear Emory? Why would that thing be here with Grandpa’s stuff?” Sam closes and tapes shut another box of clothes for Goodwill. “I really don’t think you’ll find it here.”

“I don’t know. I just don’t remember having Emory past that time we came here for the Fourth of July. You know,  the year the multi-pack went off sideways and we had to hit the ground? I think it was in 1987 or something because I hadn’t quite started high school yet.” I open another drawer of the dresser in the attic. It is full of odds-and-ends pieces of wrapping paper that is obviously from the 1950’s. Everything smells musty. Grandpa has been gone for seven months. We are finally going through his things. Our parents live too far away now so the task is left to Sam and I, the two grandkids who had lived within a mile of our Grandparents almost our entire lives. Sam and I had talked about doing this for months but could never seem to coordinate schedules. Once, in February, we had started but got as far as the attic door before we decided to go back into town for a cold beer instead. This weekend was it and we realize now that one weekend was not going to be enough time. We had no idea what we were up against…this could require time off from work.

“Hey Mae…’member this?” Sam pulls out a badly bent straw hat. It has a see-thru green visor built into it. We both recognize it as the one Grandpa wore when he was out in the fields. He had been a farmer for over 40 years. Sam puts it on her head. It is too big and comically skewed sideways on her head.

“Oh my God Sam…that is awful!” We both catch ourselves laughing for the first time that day. “Hey, ‘member when we each sat up in one of the tractors, I think I had the combine and you had the red I-H, and we played on the CB radio?”

Sam smiles. “Oh my GOD Mae! Yes! We were talking about what boys we liked and then Uncle Joe came on the radio and let us know…”

“…that everyone on that frequency could hear us!” I finish her sentence. I am laughing so hard my jaw hurts. “I don’t know Sammy, I think Corey is cuter, but Scott is sooo much older.” I mimic my ten-year-old self. We both go into silent laugh mode for a full minute.

“That was so embarrassing!” Sam pats at her eyes with the corner of an old jacket sleeve. “But Uncle Joe was cool about it. He didn’t even mention it at supper when he came in.”

“He probably just forgot. God, our world was so small then.”

“Small but comfortable.”

“True.”

“I miss Grandpa.”

“I do too Sam. My heart hurts.”

“Mine too. I wonder if it will ever stop hurting?”

I don’t bother answering; I know it’s rhetorical. Grandma had died almost 9 years ago and some days the pain of her not being there was so fresh it was like it had just happened all over again. And some days, it was like a whisper. Grief is like that. Maybe grief thinks it’s being nice with the occasional reprieve but all it does is make the pain worse when it comes back fresh again. I pick up more clothes and start folding them into boxes. So many clothes. All I can remember Grandpa wearing are button down shirts and tan slacks the last few years. There was a time when he wore the short-sleeved button down shirts with blue jeans and black leather boots when he was farming. He always tucked in his shirts and wore white undershirts. And he wore that straw hat with the built-in see-thru green visor. These things are etched in my memory, just like the memory of how there were always puppies and kittens under the front porch, clothes in the dryer, and Blue Bunny ice cream in the deep freeze at the farm. It is a comfortable place and I know Sam feels the same family spirits around her that I do as we pack up these simple material things, some new, some old, some very very old…

“Hey! Look who I found!” I hold up Emory, the long-lost teddy bear from my youth. His ears are still faintly green. It looks like he had been shoved in a dresser drawer with some sheets and an old wind up alarm clock.

“No frickin’ way.” Sam chuckles. “I thought for sure that little guy was history.”

“Do you think Freddy would like him?” My nephew is going on three-years old. Emory appears to have a few years left in him.

“Yeah. I think he would.” Sam grabs the box of old newspapers for recycling she had just filled and points to the second one. “Here, help me take these downstairs and we’ll take a break. My back is killing me and I need to check in with James, see how that little Fredkins of mine is doing.”

I grab the second box and follow her down the stairs. Emory is riding on the top of my box. I’m not quite ready to let him go, maybe in a day or two. As I look up I notice that Sam is still wearing Grandpa’s old straw hat. What I don’t notice is that we are both silently crying, starting our private goodbyes. I think it is just me.

Start Over

Truly if this was my second job; I wouldn’t have done very well. I’m not going to chastise myself for not writing every day like I need to though…it’s just life and the reality is that I don’t get paid to do this so when I’m totally wasted from life in general; I probably won’t write as often…mostly b/c it will be shit.  Then again…that is part of this experiment too…free-thought and random writing. Shit or no shit. Either way, please don’t give up on this site…I’m not. So let’s start again. Tonight I’m going to do a small exercise in dialogue. I hope that anyone who reads it will enjoy it!

Hwy 29: Memories – rough draft – 1st copy

I must have been about four or five. My Mom was driving her behemoth 1975 Chevy Monte Carlo. I think it was a ’75. It was before the square headlights but after 1972. There was another woman in the car, I don’t remember her name but I remember that she was Native American or at least looked Native American and lived with her husband out in the country somewhere.  The woman had long black hair that was parted down the middle, hippy-sunshine-girl style. I think she was a classmate of my Mom’s when my Mom was attending South Dakota State University.   I have vague  memories of  just a couple of interactions with this woman and then nothing. Who was she? Is she still in South Dakota? Does my Mom remember her?

The car had those huge bench seats and I was in the middle. This is my first memory of ever having a headache. I think it might have even been a migraine. (The fact that it is the first memory I have of my headaches is amazing and kind of sad too. I have suffered from headaches and migraines most of my life. It’s sad to me that a childhood memory has to do with this pain.) Anyway, the woman had me put my head in her lap and she rubbed my temples. I remember her fingers being cool and that coolness comforting my nausea too.  I remember the way the light was coming through the driver’s side window; my Mom’s profile against the last afternoon sunshine as she drove. I feel like she wasn’t too sure about this. I don’t know why; maybe that is just projecting my own feelings onto her. Maybe she was just concerned. I don’t  know what happened when we got home, I think we took the woman home and then went to our home in White, SD. (Yes, there is such a place…  http://whitesd.com/ ) I am pretty sure I fell asleep though and that my headache was gone.

I know that my Mom and I travelled the route from Brookings, SD to White, SD via Hwy 29 hundreds of times. My Mom was going to college full-time and she had put me into a day care center near the college. We travelled together a lot back then. (Road trips with my Mom are still very high up on the list of my favorite things to do.) Hwy 29 was a cement highway, like those popular in the midwest due to it being more durable in cold and snowy conditions, and I listened to the thump, thump, thump, thump of every section as it passed under the tires. I know we had to have had a lot of adventures together on it, words spoken, sneezes contained. But there are only a few vivid yet incomplete memories I have of those trips and they are of this day with the headache and of the day I lost my tooth in the gum I was chewing. I was older at this time, probably six or so. No more than seven because when I was seven, my parents divorced and my Mom and I moved to Hendricks, MN where I finished out my 1st grade year. We didn’t travel on Hwy 29 so often after that.

I also remember a time many years later when I was 18 years old and was following my Aunt Barb and Uncle Martin back from Sioux Falls, SD where they had gone to pick up a motorcycle. We were on Hwy 29 and they were riding the motorcycle and I was driving their HUGE Cadillac, which we had all been in on the way to Sioux Falls. It was black with gray interior and absolutely elegant. I blared Metallica’s “Black” in the cassette player. I thought I was being so ironic and super rebellious. I used to enjoy driving around in my 1979 Pontiac Le Mans blaring Nine Inch Nails too. I was sure a town like Brookings,SD was totally unaware of Trent Reznor and his crew. The reality is that Brookings is a college town…I’m sure now that Trent Reznor was old news by that time and I really just looked like a punk (and not the good kind) poser. I’m also sure I just annoyed people at the stop lights. Ignorance really is bliss, but self-awareness is a gift.

Bad First Sentence Exercise

1. She huffed and puffed, sweat beading on her brow, stretching and pulling the spandex until its integrity moaned; it didn’t matter, the Jane Fonda workout waited for no one.

2. As we walked up to the door full of holiday greetings, the in-laws opened  it and we were met with the full ensemble, including their not-so-friendly mutt encased in an Elizabethan collar.

3. The only thing keeping her from playing the lotto was her irrational fear of taxes.

4. She opened her eyes in the morning to find that everything in her house had grown 120x and that she was in danger of being crushed by a penny precariously perched on her headboard.

Those are my four really bad first sentences…hopefully my next short story does not begin with something like this….

-JMU

Writing Exercise – Sentences

Assignment: Starting sentences with, “I met him on the stairs….”

1. I met him on the stairs, the quiet passing of two souls. Then he dropped his bag of groceries and we were knee-deep in cans of tuna and apples rolling dangerously underfoot.

2. I met him on the stairs.

“Hey! You’re the guy I’ve been looking for.” He said.

“Oh really?” I said. “What did I do now?” I thought to myself.

“Yeah. I’m the super here and you owe some rent…I’m not puttin’ up with that, ya hear?”

Damn. Moving again it looks like.

3. I met him on the stairs, wind-blown and red-faced.

“Elevators out again?” I asked.

He rolled his eyes as he panted past me.

With My Regards – Original Version w/ “Crazy Chick” Ending

“I am waiting for someone, thank you.” I say to the waiter for the third time. I don’t think he believes me anymore. He just keeps coming around and filling my cup of coffee. I am so glad when he does this because I have been drinking it as if it was the only way to breathe. Every time he fills up my cup, I also have something to do, something that takes my eyes off the clock above the kitchen door. I take the cream and slowly pour it into the black coffee, trying to watch the very point at which the two blend. Then I carefully spoon three teaspoons of sugar into the cup. I watch every granule it seems. Then I stir. As I stir, I look out the window hoping to see your coat flapping against your legs. You would be hurrying because you are dreadfully late. I would follow you with my eyes through the wall and hit the door the same instant you did and you would see me looking at you. You would rush over to me, lift me by my elbows into your arms, and kiss me all the while explaining why you have left me in the cafe for three hours alone. Everything would b e all right then.

“No, I don’t care for a menu, just more coffee please.” I think the waiter is getting anxious. He shouldn’t worry, when you get here, we’ll leave him a huge tip and he’ll be  glad he was so courteous to me. The clock on the wall is going excessively fast. I look at my watch but they seem to be synchronized. The door opens and I think it is you, but it’s only a man with the same coat. It will be dark in a few hours and I would hate to take the subway alone. I’m sure you’ll have a good excuse.

The waiter asks if I want my cup warmed up again. He puts extra emphasis on “again” like he’s irritated. I tell him that I would like that very much and is there a phone I could use. I explain that you are supposed to be here and you would never keep me waiting like this. The waiter nods his head as if to say, “I understand” and lets me use his cell phone.

I call your personal line and you answer. You are not on your way or even stuck in traffic. You are still sitting in your office like nothing is wrong! I push END and know that is exactly what it is. I am such a fool. I drink the last of my coffee black and hot and leave the  waiter a twenty on the table. I am shaking all over but I can’t tell if it is the caffeine or the fact that you have completely humiliated me again.

I take a cab to the building you work in. I take the elevator up to the seventh floor and step into the lobby of your law firm. I walk past your secretary who is getting up from her desk to stop me but I ignore her and am too fast for her anyway. You have a beautiful window in your office and the sky is clear blue behind you as you look up from your monitor. Our eyes meet for the eternity of an accusing second before I pick up the monitor and pitch it out the window. The sound of glass breaking tingles through every nerve in my body; the look on your face is priceless.

“That is the last time I get stood up by you…EVER.” I hiss at you. I don’t know if it is adrenaline, caffeine, or a sweet, dark mixture of the two, but I jump on top of your desk and kick you in the head and watch the blood splatter on what’s left of your window. You stumble backwards; I am surprised because I didn’t think I kicked that hard. I guess my Doc Martins are tougher than I thought. I want you to stumble right out of that window but this is not the first time you’ve disappointed me.

I jump down from the desk and grab your fish bowl off the shelf. I unzip my jeans and proceed to squat bare-assed over it and pee into the water. You are rushing over to me, a huge red bloodied bruise flaring out from your pale white face. I meet your groin with the toe of my beloved Docs and promise to call your wife on the way out.

I plan to do just that as soon as I flatten all of the tires on your BMW and fill the gas tank with sugar.

THE END

(See? I told you it was the “crazy chick” version!!)

Step Lesson

She just sits there. She hasn’t moved since you brought her home from the airport half an hour ago. I’m sure it must be a challenge for her, but couldn’t she at least look around?  Maybe she is just tired. I ask her if she’d like to lie down and take a nap. I tell her that there are  fresh sheets on the bed for her. “Wouldn’t that be nice?” She rolls her big brown eyes back into her head and continues to otherwise ignore me. What about food? “Are you hungry? I made a new citrus sauce for the Cornish hens I am baking for us; doesn’t it smell incredible?”  Still no movement on her part, just the continued stare out the window. I tell her that I made key lime pie for dessert.  Hesitantly I mention that her Dad told me key lime was her favorite. This time the eye roll was accompanied with the best exaggerated bored exhale I’d ever heard from a ten-year old.

Okay, new approach.  “Is that a new dress honey?” Again with the rolling eyes thing. “Are you uncomfortable? Would you like to change clothes?” She just stares out the window. She won’t look at me and just will not respond. Okay then. I am giving up. I go through the swinging door of the kitchen and take a bottle of scotch off the top shelf of the pantry.

The scotch is hidden behind the oatmeal because I know you would never look there. I don’t even bother with a glass. The buzzer signaling that the hens are done goes off just as I choke down my first gulp. Coughing, I get up to turn the oven down to the “hold” setting. Lord knows how long it will be before we eat tonight. Maybe she had a big meal on the plane. Do they even serve big meals on airplanes anymore? I take another swig, the burn of the alcohol matches the burn of the bile in my stomach.

I steady myself and walk out to the living room to tell you about dinner but I see you kneeling down beside this previously non-responsive daughter of yours. You are showing her a card trick. She has turned away from the window and is looking at you, possibly even with interest. You finish your trick and a smile creeps across her face in slow motion. I hear you ask if she wants to throw on some jeans and play basketball outside for a while. She looks at you and says, “I don’t know how, Daddy.” You stand up, take her hand and say, “Come on, I’ll teach you.” She allows you to lift her to her feet and you two head upstairs.

I go back to the kitchen and sit down at the big antique wooden table. I look at the soft, worn, grain of the wood. The top has been scarred by time and worn to a dark patina that is smooth and oddly always warm to the touch. The table was bought at an antique store on our honeymoon, its top is four inches of solid maple. We liked the table instantly and paid more than we should have. We often sit at it while having our morning coffee and talk about how many families have sat around it in the past. We trace the grain and the scars of the wood with our finger tips and imagine the stories of their lives unfolding around this piece of furniture that is now ours. What conversations, meals, tears and laughter were part of its history? It is the first piece of furniture that you and I have purchased as a married couple.

I reach for the bottle of scotch and after taking a long gulp, put it back on the table and fold my hands over the top. I put my forehead on my hands and sob. I am not just sad; I am miserable. I am shaking and sobbing and don’t have the strength to will  myself to stop. My shoulders sag against the onslaught of frustration; I’m crying so hard that I can’t catch my breath. I lift my head and look at my hands. The tears warp my fingers into blurry sticks of flesh. I finally catch my breath again; I spread my hands out against the table top. My fingers are old. I see them wrinkled and scarred. I have never looked at my hands this closely before. My wedding band is so shiny and new in defiant contrast. I close my eyes and feel my soul abandoning me. I sniffle and wipe the snot from my nose with the back of my hand. The tears keep coming. I have stopped even trying to stifle the cries of failure.

She must have tiptoed because I didn’t hear her walk in. I didn’t hear the swinging door creak its familiar creak either. I just felt a small touch on my shoulder. I looked up with a start. I knew that my face was all red and blotchy now. I suddenly felt hot all over and looked to see if the window was open. Damn that oven for being on still. I looked over at her and saw that she was now dressed in blue jeans and a pink t-shirt that read “Princesses Rule!” across the front in even pinker glittery writing. The t-shirt was kind of big and had been tied in a knot on one side. Her long mousey brown hair had been put into a ponytail and you had found a baseball cap that fit. It read, “Olsen Feed – Since 1924.” It was green with a picture of a silo under the words. I had worn it earlier this week when we worked on the garden out back.

She looks at me for the first time. You must have talked to her. She looks at me with concern and genuine sympathy, possibly pity but I don’t care at this point.

“Why are you crying?” She asks quietly and with some hesitation. Her voice is soft and youthful.

“I…don’t know. I think I’m scared.” My hands move up to cover my trembling mouth. I can’t believe I have just admitted this.

“I think I am too.” Her eyes dart from mine to the table. She puts her hands on the table; fingers spread.

“This is going to be hard.” I sniffle again and put my hands on the table too…spreading my fingers to match hers.

She sits down in the chair next to me.

“I love key lime pie.”

 

The German

She was with her friends at a pub in a small dorf outside Nuremburg, Germany. She saw him walk into the bar as she finished her third Guinness. His head was shaved and he wore baggy khaki shorts that came down to his shins, a wife-beater tank and well-worn combat boots. She saw him walk back out with a friend. The chain from his wallet caught the candlelight from her table as he walked by. He never even looked at her.

Later that night she saw him again, this time he saw her too. She had put back a few more Guinness and a shot or two of tequila. He was moving to the tiny dance floor of the Green Goose Pub. He didn’t even speak her language, completely foreign. She got to the dance floor and was suddenly inches away from him. They moved in time, grinding together to Nine Inch Nails. She teased him, close enough to actually touch his earlobe with her wet lips, but only to back away. The music was throbbing through their bodies and even though other people were surrounding them, they felt completely alone. Both were enjoying the possibilities.

She was in his arms now and could smell the sweat on his body. He held her tight as she moved her hips against his. She felt his face brush her neck and knew where this was headed. It was so deliciously erotic and exciting. Then the song ended. They pulled away from each other. She made herself walk over to where her friends were standing; all of them drunk too. They didn’t notice the flush of her face, the look in her eyes. They didn’t know that she could barely stand,  that her knees were shaking and her pulse racing against rationality.

She found him as she looked back across the pub on her way out. He was looking at her, not smiling but mirroring the look in her eyes. They didn’t even speak the same language but there was no doubt they were thinking the same thing. She turned and walked up the stairs into the cool and sobering October air pulling her jacket around her shoulders. Her friends led her to the taxis and she didn’t look back again. She knew if they hadn’t been there, she would be tasting the sweat on his skin again…right now…on that smoke-filled dance floor.

The taxi took off in the direction of home, of work, of that killer hangover she was sure to have tomorrow. She wanted to go back, to remember the feel of his warm body and the smell of his breath on her cheek, the vapor of potential sex. Nevertheless, tomorrow would come too fast and reality would be the first in line to slap her in the face. It was better to just let it go, she told herself, and reluctantly but resolutely did.

THE END