Here are a few excerpts from fiction I’m writing. I’m trying to craft my characters more carefully. I find that’s one of the most difficult aspects of writing fiction. I’m still in editing mode on a few. Perhaps they aren’t quite where I want them…but with work, they will be.
Come Before Winter
The letter arrived Thursday when the gauzy days of late summer were slipping away in breathless anticipation of fall. I sat to read it in splattered sunlight on the front porch. First sentence in, I wanted to rip it apart. Burn it.
“Dear Kevin: I know I’m the last person you want to hear from but I must write to you now. They tell me I only have a couple months to live. Cancer that began in my right lung is in control of my body and doctors say nothing can be done to stop it. I want to have one last meeting with you to explain things and ask you to forgive me. Come before winter. I won’t last much beyond that. Your father, Thomas.”
“Bullshit!” I shouted above the angry roar inside my skull.
He’s dying in some faraway city where he has no doubt drawn the shades and sits with his best friend, Johnny Walker. JW Red, to be exact. Facing his end, I imagine he has surrounded himself with at least a dozen bottles.I can read between the lines. He only half understands what’s happening to him. Struggling to breathe, the disease leaves him no space, no room to move or to think. He feels a desperate pull to return to life as it was, the selfish life he dictated—a book of pages without margins. Life before it changed him, without his permission, into something or someone else.
A Forest of Thorns
Dieter Schulz watched the daylight of a summer afternoon retreat across the cabin floor. Taking off his glasses, he peered out the window at the sky. Ominous purple clouds gathered in the west above the forest, eclipsing the sun. A midsummer storm was building to an atmospheric convulsion. He opened the cabin door. The wind, already fierce, threw it back against the wall. Outside in the yard, Otto, his dog of a size no match for the oncoming tempest, pawed furiously at the dirt beneath the fence. Komm rein, Otto. (Come in, Otto) he shouted against the wind. The little dog ignored him, determined to continue digging. Again he shouted, Komm jetzt rein, Otto. (Come in now, Otto). Otto looked back at him, whined and went back to work, his paws and muzzle black with dirt.
The old man, concerned about the dog’s safety, reached for a yellow slicker hanging beside the door. Despite his infirmity, the non-stop pain of a leg shattered long ago in the war, he was determined to rescue Otto from the storm. The little dog was everything to him. It was all he had.
The Play-Pretend of Angelica Marie Rene Underwood
Whomever she was, whatever accent she was speaking in at any particular time, she was already on her way to becoming something or someone else. Her moods swung in a sweeping arc from unspeakable sadness at a sparrow limp and dead on the sidewalk to silent anger at persons who doubted her authenticity when she was anyone but herself. Why did I not understand what raged inside you? When you asked–How do I even know I exist?–why did I laugh and answer with callous unconcern–Simple. As long as you’re here, you exist. When you are no longer here, you don’t. Those words play over and over in my mind. I wish–fervently—I could take them back. She introduced herself to me when we were both eleven. My family moved into the neighborhood where she and her mother lived. Through our open front door, I saw her watch the movers bring in our furniture, eyeing each piece critically, appraising it as if later to sell it all at auction. When the movers took a smoke break, she wandered inside. I was about to go upstairs with a box– Kenny’s Room scribbled on it in bold black marker. “Hello, Kenny’s Room. I presume you are the new occupant. I am Angelica Marie Rene Underwood. I prefer Amru should you want to address me. I live three houses south. You and I should become friends. At least, it’s something to consider. So—I will expect to see you in the near future. Goodbye.” With a ballet twirl and a wave, the strange girl-child skipped halfway down the loadingramp, jumped to the sidewalk and disappeared. I stared after her, uncertain if she were tethered completely to reality. I approached our friendship with typical juvenile indifference. And out of necessity. My family had moved from a neighborhood of all boys to this–all girls and one boy, Herschel Mann, a whiner. I knew instantly he and I were not destined for even a fragile friendship. My only option–odd Angelica.
She was incredibly intelligent. Far ahead of most of us in fifth grade. She could swiftly add, subtract and multiply in her head. Division took a little longer. She wrote in cursive. We struggled with printing. She read books. Because her mother was a nurse, she had access to medical texts– The Atlas of Human Anatomy, Gray’s Anatomy and The Laboratory of Human Anatomy. Angelica knew worlds about the human body and its parts. And she wasn’t shy about calling them out. “Herschel,” she said one morning following our bathroom break, “you didn’t zip up and your penis is falling out. Please consider wearing underpants.” Even at eleven, Angelica was more mature than the rest of us. She wore her black hair short. A breezy fringe of bangs across her forehead cleared her eyebrows by no more than an inch. Her long black eyelashes formed marquees above dark eyes that made promises yet to be kept. Her lips were temptress red. And she was not a wispy little girl. Angelica had a body. When she was fourteen, her budding curves provoked a female cabal to declare a boycott of anything connected with her. The mean girls were department store mannequins–look-alikes cast from the same mold. One-size-fits-all size AAA Teeny.Their hair, mousy brown or not quite blond, was shapeless and limp. They were, collectively, a human landfill of failed female anatomic possibilities. Why don’t they like me, Kenny? If only they would include me in some of their conversations they would see I am really not a bad person. What do they want me to be? She sighed.Well, it is what it is. And what it is, Amru, is jealousy. They’re jealous of you. You are what they want to be–and aren’t. She patted my arm. I like you, Kenny! I’m so glad we’re friends. By seventh grade, males were a little knot of faux manhood in one corner of the school playground. We spit, scratched and took turns throwing my Swiss army knife at circles in the sand. We practiced taking our favorite adolescent word from one syllable to two by adding e’s. Shee-it. It became our mantra because we realized it was out of the ordinary and unacceptable. The girls hung out in another corner. They twittered and giggled, a clutch of clueless female sparrows. Traded coats or sweaters– told each other how great they looked. Occasionally ramping up enough courage to glance sideways at us.
Between the two camps, sitting on a bench alone, Angelica. Reading a book or studying a play script.I have discovered a new world, Kenny. Drama. I can be anything I want– — at any time I want because it isn’t real. Although sometimes I feel it might be. Or could be. Or maybe I want it to be because I can be anyone but me. It’s lovely. It’s play-pretend. Amru, I should have said, don’t go too far beyond reality. It could be hard to come back.
But I didn’t tell her. And I’ll regret it forever.