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Friday, January 8, 2010

When all Seems Lost

When I’m really stuck for an idea, as I have been so often lately, I turn to Darnell Arnoult and her Thursday scene storming list. I don’t follow her directions, which I believe are to pull one word from the list, write about it for a set period of time and then move on to the next word, writing about that for the same period of time, and so on. I just pick one of her words and go for it. Today’s word was “logs.” Some day, I suppose, I’ll learn how to take these things somewhere.

The cabin seemed brighter than she remembered, but the last time was during a rainy summer and all season long everything had seemed dark. Today though, the shaved logs on the outside walls glowed orange in the late afternoon light. The new cement block steps leading up to the porch were cool under her bare feet, but the screen door squealed as it always had. Out of habit, she grabbed it with her fingers to make sure it wouldn’t slam.

The porch looked the same; a musty wood-framed couch with worn navy cushions rested against the dark paneled wall; the flat topped wooden chest, containing rainy day games, doubled as a coffee table in front. Two white ladder-back rockers with woven wicker seats faced the couch at the edge of the sisal rug that centered the furniture arrangement. Wind chimes she made from bamboo rods when she was ten clinked conversationally in the late day breeze.

Tiptoeing across the porch, she entered the kitchen, where a rectangle of sun glared from the window onto the pine drop-leaf table placed in the middle of the room. Today’s Portland Press Herald lay open in front of one chair; beside it sat a green ceramic mug. From the distance, the mug looked empty, although she knew that it once held tea, seeped with water that had boiled for at least five minutes; even now the thought of that endless whistle made her twitch. If there had been steam coming out of that cup, she thought, she wasn’t sure she’d be able to withstand the urge to run back out the door.

But the cup was cold. She fingered it to make sure, then slipped behind the table to gaze out the picture window that overlooked the incline leading to the lake. The docks were in, lifting and settling, the tin motor boat bobbed at its mooring in the chop of the afternoon wind. She could see Mikey out there—he’d grown, but she knew it was him—wrestling on the dock with another boy she didn’t recognize. Grappling with each other, they leaned and pushed, trying to force the other in.

The late sun sparkled on the water, making it difficult to see. Shielding her eyes with her hand, she gazed over to the open door of the shed. There was no sign of Anita, but that wasn’t a surprise. She often left Mikey at the lake house when she had to work in the afternoon. Andie sighed. Anita, sitting on the dock, toasting her legs in the lowering sun would have made this easier somehow. Anita could always find the right words to diffuse any situation, whereas, Andie's talent seemed to be, mainly, in making things worse.

Jiggling a set of keys in her pocket, she took a deep breath, squared her shoulders and stepped out the back door, heading down toward the open shed. Peering in, she could see his curved shoulders in the ubiquitous red-plaid work shirt as he bent his head toward the piece of wood he was in the process of confining within the jaws of a clamp. Thankful she didn’t have to compete with the whine of an electric saw; she pushed the door open further, knowing it would squeak.

Turning, he caught sight of Andie, and stood up, staring at her. Holding up her palms, she said: “Before you say anything, I’ve come in peace. Anita told me about the cabin and I want you to know that it’s been taken care of. The back payments have been made. In fact all the payments have been made. You own the cabin free and clear.”

“You mean you own the cabin free and clear!” he barked at her.

“No Dad, it’s yours. The deed is in your name. It’s called a gift, and for once, why don’t you just take it. In case you don’t believe me, here’s my extra set of keys” she answered, throwing them toward him.

Without thinking, he reached up his hand and caught them, wishing this one time he could find the words, that somehow he could make himself say the things that would make this all end. Now though, it was impossible to speak around the lump in his throat, which he tried in vain to clear while watching through blurred eyes as his youngest daughter stormed up the hill toward her shiny, silver sports car.

What happens next, anyone?


Tricia J. O'Brien said...

I can't believe you wrote that from the prompt. Excellent. You have a knack for descriptive detail that takes me right to the place and sets an undercurrent of emotion.
I did notice that you have an abrupt POV switch from Andie to Dad in the last paragraph. So you need to decide if this story will be told in alternating chapters of POV--his and hers. That might help lead you to what happens next. Kudos on a wonderful snippet.

Anonymous said...

Good lady, you seem to pull together interesting scenes from very small prompts. One of these days one of the characters you create will jump out at you and drag you through an entire novel, I'm sure. That's the way it works, I hear. :)

Great way to keep the writing muscles limber, though. Well done!

Helen Ginger said...

I could see this as the opening to a novel. Really nice. The abrupt POV switch threw me, but only slightly.

Straight From Hel

Paula Villanova said...

How about cutting to a completely different scene...different characters and different tone? I don't know what about...but it could work...

Liza said...

Here's why you guys are such a help. I've never had a lesson in POV, until this post! I stuck that last bit in at the very last minute, unaware of what I was doing. Thank you!

Unknown said...

You have mad skills.

Truly. I don't mind the pov switch.

glnroz said...

I am not a writer so I only guess, but I just read Stephen King's book on "Writing". He says that he never knows where his characters are headed. Not sure that is totally true but I think your charaters here have a flying carpet and are about to take a ride.

Ginger B. (Barbara) Collins said...

The POV change was a bit of a speed bump for me. The very best part was the last visual of her storming up to her shiny silver sports car. Before that moment it could have been just another "let's take care of Pa even if he begrudges our help" story. But, the silver sports car adds surprise. It answers questions and asks others.

Where to go next? I'd say get in that car and see where it takes you!

Ginger B.

Sue Richardson Orr said...

Hi,Liz. How wonderful that you're incorporating my scene storm word list into your writing routine. Thanks for the mention, as well. As I tell my students, you can't really do one of my exercises wron--as long as you do something with it. It's all about movement, words on the page. Looks like what you've chosen to do with the list is working great! Keep it up!

Sue Richardson Orr said...

Also, if you want to know more about POV, let me recommend WRITING FICTION: A GUIDE TO NARRATIVE CRAFT by Janet Burroway. This is the best book on the craft of fiction, and Burroway uses tons of short stories and excerpts to demonstrate what she's talking about. POV is one of the most difficult aspects of fiction to understand on a surface level and at a deep level, and Burroway gives the writer two chapters of instruction in this area. When learning about POV, the best approach is to try it, read about it, try it some more, reread what you've read. Anyone who's read Cormac MacCarthy knows there's lots of room to play with presentation on the page, but it's better to understand all your options first. I love this book and recommend it for every fiction writer's tool kit.

And I agree with others; this is a great response to the prompt!


J.B. Chicoine said...

See, this is why I love coming here...