Nanowrimo 2018

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Below are this year’s suggested warm-up writing prompts to get ready to be in writing mode throughout November!  Have a great month, everyone!

Mon.    10/15 Day 1 – 100 words short story with anagram name, age, “…was just found”

Tues.   10/16 Day 2 – 200 words character commenting on a news item from 2018

Wed.    10/17 Day 3 – 300 words   description of someone at a surprise party

Thurs. 10/18 Day 4 – 400 words   story told from a criminal’s point of view

Fri. 10/19 Day 5 – 500 words   description of a personally significant place

Sat. 10/20 Day 6 –  600 words story based on a picture of street art found online

Sun. 10/21 Day 7 – 700 words “autobiography” of a parent (in 1st person POV)

 

Mon. 10/22 Day 8 – 800 words a short story that includes a found heirloom

Tues. 10/23 Day 9 – 900 words two or three “super-short” stories

Wed. 10/24 Day 10 – 1000 words an evil character is avenged in a bizarre way

Thurs. 10/25 Day 11 – 1100 words description of an inspiring teacher/coach/neighbor, etc.

Fri. 10/26 Day 12 – 1200 words dialogue-only skit between two people in an argument

Sat. 10/27 Day 13 – 1300 words  dialogue-free prose depicting someone having a bad day

Sun. 10/28 Day 14 – 1400 words a completely new short story involving a domestic animal

 

Mon. 10/29 Day 15 – 1500 words  a room where something incredible or sinister has taken place

Tues. 10/30 Day 16 – 1600 words  short story including someone getting hired/fired

Wed. 10/31 Day 17 – 1667 words  two speeches from people arguing a hot-button issue

-or-

Wed.    10/31 Day 17 – 1667 words four “super-short” stories (~400 words apiece) that intertwine

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“Shaw Out Loud”: The Doctor’s Dilemma (Review)

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There are those who look at a night out at the theater to be an escape from the daily grind, the pressures from work, and the stress that often accompanies political discourse.  Then again, theater often upends this expectation and arrests our attention by offering, within the confines of a couple hours, a glimpse into different perspectives from past eras.  When director Thom Hofrichter selected The Doctor’s Dilemma for this season for First Presbyterian Theater, he did so by purposely connecting a modern-day moral debate with the thoughts of one of history’s finest satirists, George Bernard Shaw.  Though it was originally published over a century ago in England, Shaw’s play posits questions that force the audience to examine their moral compass and challenges its notions of empathy and compassion.

Hofrichter, who is in his 22nd year at FPT as Managing Artistic Director, elected for this performance to be a staged reading, which means that the actors carry scripts with them on stage.  This technique, he notes, allows for Shaw’s dense language and rhetoric to become the focal point. The experienced cast at FPT chosen for this “Shaw Out Loud” performance succeeds in an innovative and enjoyable manner.  

Over the course of five acts, five physicians are faced with the inability to cure all who are sick and must determine the fate of two local individuals.  Boomeranging throughout the play are the contrasting thoughts and perspectives, not of the actors or even the characters, but rather of an entire society, which is even more reason for a contemporary audience to examine Shaw’s suddenly relevant work.

With a dialogue-driven play set up in this manner, the performers become vessels of philosophical debate.  Theatergoers may notice how they will find themselves noticing less and less how each character is holding the very words he or she has been tapped to recite. This cast gracefully directs attention to the attitudes and rhetoric embedded within Shaw’s words.  By the final act, I would be surprised to learn that any viewer was acknowledging the scripts in performer’s hands. With drama, we are conditioned to identify a protagonist and track his or her progress toward becoming a more morally sound individual. Shaw’s play, however, puts this expectation on its proverbial ear and forces the audience to internalize their own beliefs and actions.  This is a testament to the combined efforts of a cast and director who share the notion that the attention should be on the essence of the play’s thematic focus and not the fate of a single character.

The chief man of medicine from the group is Dr. Ridgeon, played by Larry Bower.  Bower excels at capturing Ridgeon’s bedside manner, especially in the presence of the sick and their loved ones.  Kate Black as Dr. Walpole offers many humorous jabs that lighten the weighty plot. Rounding out the quintet of doctors are convincingly aloof performances by Orion Toepler, Brian Ernsberger, and Tom Corron.  Together these five actors succeed in exposing the audience to the disparaging egos of those whose careers hold human lives in the balance.

I particularly enjoyed Billy Hofman as Louis Dubedat in his arguably antagonistic role because he successfully presents valid arguments that eat away at the stuffy doctors and, perhaps, the preconceived notions of the audience.  Finally, Robyn Pasko, in her return after an outstanding performance in FPT’s My Dead Clown earlier this season, submits a stirring monologue toward the plays conclusion that, at least for this reviewer, instigated goosebumps.

While the first- and second acts may appear to spend a little too much time establishing the distinctions among the five doctors, the three remaining acts deliver a powerful payoff.  Among the most impressive features of this cast’s performance is how each one clearly establishes an identifiable trajectory of his or her character’s own morality.

Rae Surface’s set design is appropriately bare with its simple arrangement of metallic props serving as a subtle reminder of the sterile, callous environment often found in a doctor’s office or surgeon’s arena.  This purposeful void further reinforces the attention that Shaw’s dialogue demands.

The mastery of this early 20th century play perhaps lies in its unlikely relevance to a 21st century audience.  Shaw’s cutting language has evolved into the basis for a present-day ethical debate. The performers convincingly shuttle the audience back to 1906 and leave them impassioned about the reality and tragedy of modern morality.

 

I May be a little gray, but at least my back and feet hurt all the time…or…”Old Dad, Old Grad” announcement

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Yeah.  Since I have so much time on my hands, I thought, “Why not start an entirely new blog on a completely different platform?”

https://sites.google.com/view/olddadoldgrad/home

Enjoy (or ignore…)

My Dead Clown (Review)

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Starting off the 2018-2019 season at First Presbyterian Theater in downtown Fort Wayne is My Dead Clown, an original play written by David Rousculp, a licensed funeral director from New Haven.  The story follows Bill, a funeral director whose most recent project is preparing the body of Dingy the Clown.  However, Bill’s reputation is in jeopardy because he’s shown a decline in job performance since the passing of someone close to him.  Once he inadvertently brings the clown back to life, his life becomes even more complex.

This premise offers a multitude of options for audiences to explore their own lives, which is what quality theater should do.  Of all the people in the world, funeral directors should be among the most seasoned individuals who have a firm grasp of the effects of our eventual death.  However, Rousculp’s script is evidence that even those who would presumably be the most accepting of our ultimate fate are susceptible to death’s ramifications on the soul.

Director and Stage Designer Rae Surface succeeds in creating the multi-level environment this play demands.  Surface’s chosen details found in Bill’s apartment exhibit the depth of character required to portray a troubled protagonist.  Throughout the two-hour performance, this large cast offers a story of how one’s faith can be restored from the most unexpected and unlikely sources.

Duke Roth performs as the overworked and increasingly cynical Bill, the protagonist who is rapidly drowning in work and sorrow.  Roth exhibits a strong handling of balancing the stressors of Bill’s professional responsibilities and a longing for his past while dealing with the consequences of the clown’s arrival–and unintentional re-spawning–in his workspace.

Dingy the Clown is played by Reuben Albaugh.  Albaugh’s energy and cheeriness are suitable for any successful clown.  Additionally, Albaugh succeeds throughout the play with his undying (ha!) desire to bring laughter to replace sadness and smiles to erase frowns.

Among the other “living” characters are Chuck, BIll’s boss; Nancy, his assistant; and Eric, his brother.  Tom Corron’s humorous role as Chuck serves as the embodiment of Bill’s profession demands.  Jennifer Netting’s performance as Nancy shines with an exuberant portrayal of youthful spirit, innocence, and loyalty.   Eric, Bill’s younger sibling who has yet to find any firm path in his own life, is played by Nathan Driscoll.  Driscoll’s comical presence counters Bill’s apparent stress while simultaneously portraying how inspiration can come from unexpected places and events.

This play, perhaps understandably, also features a few “deceased” characters.  Leonard, played by acting and theater veteran Scott K. Strode, humorously excels as a potential aspect of Bill’s consciousness.  Deborah Kerr’s small but impressive performance as Mrs. Sticklebush is suggestive of Bill’s devotion to his responsibilities as a funeral director.  Jennifer Poiry Prough excels as Bill’s deceased wife Mary, and, peppered throughout the performance, appears in flashbacks where she exposes those gorgeous moments that offer and explain the depth of despair Bill is experiencing in the painful time since her sudden departure.

Rousculp’s rather unpredictable script features many pleasant surprises, many of which are found in the roles of characters who rarely escape their longstanding stereotypes and stifled reputations.  Among the remaining secondary characters are strong performances by real-life married couple Robyn and Rod Pasko.  Robyn, who is performing in Fort Wayne for the first time after establishing herself on stage and screen in Chicago, turns in an animated and vivid performance as Lucy, a.k.a. The Devil.  Rod Pasko offers an unanticipated yet charming down-to-earth version of Death.

Jeanette Walsh’s costume design is poignant and effective, especially in the gimmicks and shenanigans of the title character.  Theater Manager Thom Hofrichter’s production and lighting succeed in creating the obvious balance of humor and despair when grouping a boisterous clown, a funeral home, and hell on a single stage.

Bill’s anguish is a direct result of a past tragedy.  However, that tragedy has impacted Bill’s faith and perception of humanity’s significance.  During the few glimpses from the past with his spouse, we see a jovial couple who epitomize the human desire for love and devotion.  Once that was stripped away, Bill became the universal version of humanity who is forced to question that faith.  From the moment the first corpse rises up and interacts with the protagonist, any audience member who sees My Dead Clown during its first-ever run will recognize that he or she is in for an amusing and introspective experience.

Creative Writing Class – Draft 1 (Inspired by Art)

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One of this week’s assignments was to create a 1000(ish)-word story that was inspired by one of six famous works of art.  I chose the one below.

Yes.  Nighthawks by Edward Hopper.

The draft I’ve submitted DEFINITELY needs work.  I’m trying some new stylistic things and playing around with voice.  It might be a little hard to follow, but do try to make it to the ending.  I welcome all criticism, but please remember it’s a very rough draft of something.

Steve Lively

“Mint Condition”

It’s well after midnight.  What is this place even doing being open?  They can’t see me, but I can’t stand here across the street in the night wind under this glaring light post all night either.  Coffee would be good right now since I’m so cold, but I don’t want to talk.  The lone woman inside the coffee shop looks familiar.  Like, maybe she was at the house last New Year’s or something.  Dolly was always putting on these holiday parties right at the last minute.  Well, like a few days before the day, of course, but she never really planned them out.  Sends me to the grocery with a list longer than my arm this year on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve.

Maybe that’s why I had to get out.

A scribble.  “What were you describing just now, John?”

What do you mean?

“The coffee shop.  And the, uh, light post?”

I shift my body around which makes the whole couch squeak.  I scratch my head and feel one of those eerie little ball fragments that sometimes rest on your head without you knowing.  I’m always paranoid it’s lice because once when I was little, everyone at school blamed me for bringing lice to school, and I had no idea what the fuck they were talking about.

I don’t answer.

“Well, John.”  He clears his throat and almost begins gagging.  It must be in the therapist’s handbook to clear your throat in the most annoying way.  “Now, I can’t be sure, of course.  But didn’t you tell me your wife’s father had an art collection?”

Ex-wife, Doc.

“Forgive me.”

A couple prints.  One lithograph he’s really proud of.

“Who did it?”

Doc, I never remember the names of those artists.  Why?

I shiver, then inhale and get a huge whiff of meat loaf.  Bright yellow light runs the perimeter of the door that separates this office from the rest of this guy’s house.  I begin thinking what his wife must look like, dress like, and if she runs her hands through her hair when they bang.

“It just sounded a little like a very famous painting.  Nighthawks.  I believe.  Hopper.”

The drunk from Hoosiers? I smile toward my feet.  I hear him switch and re-cross his legs.

“No, John.  Edward, I believe.  You mentioned a coffee shop.  Nighttime.  Only a few customers.”

There’s a famous painting of that?  Sounds dull.

But he’s not biting.  He knows my tricks.  I want water, but last time I asked, he gave me the tiniest bottled water any company makes.  I reach for one of the individually wrapped mints on the coffee table between us without really looking for it.

“Well,” he clears his throat again.  “Dull or not, it’s widely known.  Now, I was thinking that your father-in-law, the art fan, might have shown you this painting.  Perhaps in a collection book.  A coffee table book.”

When he asks these types of questions, I always make it look or sound like I’m thinking he’s onto something.  Sometimes, I’ll ponder-hum; other times, I’ll just crinkle my brow and shift around.  Maybe fold and unfold my arms.  This time, I just suck on the peppermint and think about farting.  I know it’s immature and embarrassing, but I really kind of want to.  It’s so damn cold in here.  I almost have to, to give myself a reprieve from the frigidity.  Right here.  Right on this cliché burgundy leather couch.  But I refrain from the temptation and bite the mint hard instead.

Doc, I know Nighthawks.  You must think I’m a fuckin’ moron if—

I launch forward.  My feet are stuck though, so I can only turn my head toward him.

He holds up a hand—the one bearing the fifty-dollar pen I’d like to steal.  “Now, John.  Of course–”

You want me to talk about the night I left my wife. I can’t do it.

I grab another mint but just hold it in my hand and talk to it instead of looking at his pasty, scared face.

You want me to explain how someone who had it so well could just up and leave.  That’s not going to happen.

“I’m sorry.  I didn’t mean to come off condescending.”  He tells me to go on and lie back some more.  “Just relax,” he says.  I suck on the mint and watch two revolutions of the second hand on the gaudy iron sunburst wall clock his wife probably picked out.

So her dad was an art fan.  What of it?

I can’t see him anymore because I’m facing away again—toward my shoes now—and I sort of slide against the inside panel of this godforsaken sofa.  It’s soft but I know he overpaid.

“It’s this, John.”  Another throat clear.  I’m sure he pushed his glasses back toward his sticky face as well.  “Our sessions are meant for you to get some….some closure with your wife.”

“Ex-wife.”

“Excuse me, John.  Yes.  Your ex-wife.”  He scratches something down on the legal pad.  “And when you waste time …”

What?

He leans in.  “May I be frank?”  He doesn’t wait for an answer.  “It could suggest that you want me or anyone to think you want to discuss the past, but in reality it’s the last thing you want to do.”

He’s never shown his hand to me like this before.  I hear a soft click, then the heated air from the two vents in the room begin blowing.  I’ll bet the meat loaf is done and the wife is starting on the pinot.  Pissed her husband isn’t done with me yet.

What can I say, Doc?  It’s going to be a while before I can even understand it all myself.

“That’s fine, John.  I’ve got time.”

I feel him look at the sunburst and I’m right.

“Let’s pick up here next time, okay?”

Sure.

I take another few mints.  He watches me, but he doesn’t seem to care enough to say anything.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

“Inmate Fourteen Eleven Twenty-three!  On your feet!”

“He was doing it again, Sir,” a voice calls from above.

“Doing what?” Sir bellows.

“His dreams, Sir.”  Wiry, orange legs are now dangling near my head.  Suddenly, he jumps down.  Slides, really.  “I thought he was awake, so I asked him if he liked any art and he just started carrying on like last time.”

“Uh-huh,” Sir says gruffly.  “Anything new?”

“Naw.”  The voice stops and clears his throat.  “Still callin’ me ‘Doc’ and shit.  Said somethin’ about some night time and coffee.  Then meat loaf.”

“Meat loaf?”

“Yeah.”  He sniffs long and hard.  Longer than someone whose rickety body wobbles when he talks.  “I smell it too though.”

Sir laughs.  “Son, everything in the joint smells like meatloaf.  Did he say anything his lawyer should know?”

A more casual sniff this time.  “Naw, sir.  Nothin’ about why he killed his wife.”

Creative Writing Assignment #2 (1 of 3)

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Only one of the three writings due this week was prose fiction; thus, here’s my entry below.  The instructions called for a brief (two-paragraph) scene that contains contrasts.

ENGL 202 – Creative Writing

Session 2:  Journal 1 (3 Prompts – imagery)

  1. Assignment:  “Write two paragraphs of your own in which you describe a brief fictional scene that is full of contrasts.  Make the contrasts meaningful to the character in your scene.”

Entry 1:

Jeremy’s mother, in a text message, asks if he’ll be sleeping there tonight.  Without responding, he sighs, unintentionally expelling a  pushpin of saliva.   Twenty-nine years old and running a plastic packing tape dispenser along the final crinkled box, he remembers that Sara and Ginni have been in Milwaukee for six-and-a-half days.   He kneels, then watches his hands as the tape dwindles to that eerie end where adhesive becomes lifeless cardboard.  There’s not enough to finish this box, which is filled with typical junk drawer inventory: opened battery blister packs, flip phones,  and creased concert tickets.  It’s midday; a narrow tower of sun blasts through the opening of the curtains he and Sara picked out the night she told him she was pregnant.  He watches the dust dance within the new bright avenue that lands on the empty hardwood floor they argued about.  Carpet, he’d told her, made more sense with a kid.  Couldn’t we just tear it up when she’s older?

Leaving the dispenser perched atop its flimsy castle, Jeremy realizes his feet are numb from being in this position so long.  Pressing his fingers into his eye sockets–one of Sara’s ever-growing list of pet peeves–he ran his dry, dusty fingers down his face and across his week-long scruff, and stands.  The hollow home  eight years earlier,  had been a blank canvas for a young crazy married couple to make into a home.  Now, perhaps, another would try.  Slowly, he lets the blood flow, mix, and return to normalcy within his unsocked feet before he turns around.  Had she purposely left that damn iron sign between the windows?  The one that read This Home Knows Love that he hated for its hokeyness?   His pocket vibrates again; Jeremy lifts the box, leaves the door unlocked for the realtor, and drives to his mother’s.

The Start of Someting – Novel Excerpt (First Draft)

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This is a chapter from my novel-in-progress, THE START OF SOMETHING. Within the chapter is a short story written by my main character, Bill McKenzie. That’s probably confusing. Sorry…

CHAPTER XXXX

“A Reunion of Sorts” – Bill McKenzie – age 24- story outline

[note to self]: this is inspired by this book a girl named Melody was reading for some sort of Children’s Literature class she was taking. The book was about this kid who has to go to the four extreme corners of the continental US to place a memorial for a teenager the narrator kid was friends with before the kid died in a drunk driving accident. The cross-country trip was his dad’s idea, I think. Pinwheels, maybe, was the name. It got me thinking about how people deal with sudden deaths in ways we may not ever hear about.

Story idea: Each year, on the last day of classes, this teacher pulls aside one student and hands him or her a sealed envelope. They are instructed not to open it for five years or earlier if they finish college. He tells them he almost didn’t finish and knows several fine, successful people who not only didn’t finish but some never started.

The letter is an acceptance letter into a club of sorts. Once a year, and never the same time of year, the teacher meets with the members of the club for dinner out, dinner in, a day at the park, or some other fairly private event. These are students he would have never admitted were his favorites of the year. They were favorites for all sorts of reasons—many were academically successful, but some were C students or worse. Over half have earned M.D.s or Ph. Ds but some of the others never left that town.

The story is what turns out to be the final meeting of the group—the teacher’s funeral. People from ages 23 to over 50 attend. One mother-daughter combination (neither knew the other had been a member??) shows up. They’d all been sent a letter prior to his death to attend the visitation, but not the funeral. After the visitation, the letter read, someone, maybe all of them, would know where to go.

They meet in his classroom and they eventually talk. Maybe the story ends with an unnamed person finally saying something out loud.

The power of the piece could be that nothing is ever stated until that final line.

That was all he had. A single sheet of notes scratched down and never more. Bill McKenzie had gone home after having drinks with his old writing teacher to sift through notebooks and flash drives and could only find that one page. His shoulders drooped, defeated, and he shook his head and told the invisible people around his apartment that he had written more. He had been sure of it.

With just the sheet, however, he knew it was time to finally put it together. Opting for a water instead of one of the three beers in his fridge, he sat down at his writing table and tried to remember those characters.

Nothing.

To the non-writer, this may seem implausible—the guy had access to his notes and the memory of what he’d thought of a long time ago when the idea first entered his mind. Todd’s words, though, struck something in him and he tried to find it again.

“A Reunion of Sorts” – Bill McKenzie age 28

The old man was so sly about it. Every year, he did something very subtle, but this time was fairly easy. He had had a contest with his English 12 students: They average 90% or higher on their last exam of the year and he’d let them watch any movie they wanted over the last two days of classes before finals. The class won the contest and eventually decided on a film made from a popular teen love story. He’d made fun of the story and genre countless times and this was their playful payback.

This time, he was subtle in passing a note to Marianna Jenkins, seated in the middle chair of the middle row. The center of the room and the center of his Platonic heart.

That year.

The old man was perfectly harmless. Don’t get the wrong idea about him. He had had a wife, but she passed ten years earlier of a violent cancer that had not been caught at the right time. They’d had a child—a boy—and he was fine and successful. He loved his old man almost as much as the students who had been in his room year after year.

The subtlty toward Marianna Jenkins was in the form of a sticky note. In the darkened classroom, she didn’t even know he’d put it down while the movie was playing. He had been watching with the class—laughing when they laughed. Awwing when they awwed. Marianna Jenkins’ note simply said “Pls stay after class.”

She lingered as was told and waited until all of her classmates left and wished the old man a great summer. He nodded and didn’t look anyone in the eye as they passed on to another room on their final day.

Marianna Jenkins stood at the doorway—closed—with her remaining materials clenched tightly to her chest. She waited patiently for the reason for the note.

The old man began this year’s speech the same was as he had for the last thirty-seven years. He held the envelope the entire time, but the student he kept after each year never knew what it held. His words were crinkled and sentimental. Tears usually ensued, always by the student and never his. They were honored to be the recipient of such kindness.

The old man smiled under a long salt-and-pepper mustache. He reminded her the terms—that she may not open it for five years from today or sooner, if she’d earned a bachelor’s degree.

Marianna Jenkins stepped toward the emptying hallway and shot back, hugged him tightly, and thanked him for everything he’d done for her over the last two years. The old man reminded her that she had done the hard work, not him.

This year’s meeting, according to the letter sent out, was going to be at his residence. The first time since his wife’s passing. He’d been debating whether or not to sell it and eventually contacted a realtor who warned him that at the price he was asking it was going to go quickly. That would be okay with him.

The event at his house was to occur on the second Saturday. In June. In the late afternoon. The invitations were always worded just like this. Come if you can, he used to add. It’d be wonderful to reunite. For a teacher who valued the English language above his own diet and, some argued, his own family, the old man included few words on the handwritten invitations. For those who had come regularly over the years, they knew less was more. The first-timers, like Marianna Jenkins, had to do a little digging.

The old man deplored social media. A junkpile, he often called it. Eliot’s new Waste Land, he once offered in class. Did you ever notice that people don’t shake hands anymore, he said the previous year when he was asked why he isn’t connected.

That term used to mean something else, he told them.

He told them spending his youth indoors would have been tragic.

What’s the point of leaving the house if you’re only going to stare at your phone, he posited.

That shut them up.

And they actually talked.

While they maintained possession of their phones during their visit, they all but forgot about them.

But that was all last year. When the old man was a little healthier.

But it was also the summer before he met Marianna Jenkins.

Marianna Jenkins was, to the old man, the proverbial shining star student. She was genuinely respectful, smart as a whip (he’d tell her after she aced test after test), and always put others before herself.

She was one of the few students who never even had the time to request a recommendation letter; he had it ready in early November.

She offered to organize a toy drive and spearheaded a Coats For Kids campaign while others students filled out wish lists for their parents.

Marianna Jenkins, however, also had opened up to the old man. It had been in October when she told him that she’d spent many of her single-digit years in foster care before she was finally officially adopted. She loved her adopted parents so much that she didn’t think twice about changing her name to theirs.

It had been bad, she’d told him, in foster care. Sleeping in four different beds throughout a given week because so much drama was happening within the house and family. Verbal and physical abuse. It’d had made her stronger, she told him.

When she’d gotten her letter three years earlier, the old man had told her it might be the last one he gives out. That was all he said about it.

Marianna Jenkins finished her bachelors degree in eight semesters over three calendar years. She took the sealed letter with her to her graduation ceremony. She didn’t know it, but he watched her cross the stage before excusing himself out of his aisle and pumping his fist.

The June letter reached Marianna Jenkins a week later at her apartment. A dog she’d adopted two days after graduation yelped with enthusiasm but she kindly explained the letter was not for him.

The following Wednesday morning, for reasons she’ll never know, she was standing in line at the local convenient store. Something turned her around. Not a force from a person but a sensation. Her eyes peered downward to see the old man’s picture on the front page of the daily newspaper. Heart attack takes local teacher, it read.

In the same way she knew to turn around at the convenient store, Marianna Jenkins also called in to work (she’d never done that before) to attend the visitation. There was a modest crowd, given the limited time between the announcement of the old man’s passing and his celebration of life. That’s what they called them nowadays, he’d told her class once before. Funerals must be too morbid a term for this sensitive generation.

Marianna had driven to the funeral alone but sensed togetherness as soon as a young spirited man who introduced himself as Jack from Tennessee had smiled as she approached the door he had been holding open for her.

Once inside and slightly embarrassed as she revealed to Jack that it was her first funeral, he glazed that smile again and said it was nice to meet what he presumed to be a new member.

Jack walked Marianna Jenkins down the plush carpeted hallway, past an empty page on a signature sheet, and toward the room that held the casket. She bit her lip, suggesting she was not ready. He shushed her as if he were his older, wiser brother. The first row of seats were the only ones occupied. Marianna Jenkins immediately recognized the unmistakable bob of a recently retired teacher and the height of the school’s basketball coach.

He didn’t look real, but then again they never do. In class once, he’d talked about going to his own mother’s funeral and said he regretted it. Those words stunned Marianna Jenkins and probably her classmates, but he went on to state how he appreciated what the funeral home people do, but he wished he could erase that image of her permanently.

The open casket, she realized, might have been another lesson from the old man. He battled over irony with students (presumably year after year) and this was his final nod to, well, himself and his humor. Take that, he was telling them. I told ya it’s not how I really look!

She turned from the casket and nodded at the familiar teachers. Before awkwardness set in, Jack came from behind and pushed her on as if a train of people were waiting to see the old man one last time.

In here, he whispered.

The room where she was guided had four different colored walls and dozens of uncrying faces. These people weren’t sad, which seemed very odd to Marianna Jenkins.

A beat later, and Marianna found herself shaking hands with the people who bore these faces. They had to be club members, she realized. As she made her rounds, two faces fell into place as she remembered seeing younger versions of them in the school hallways.

Introductions done, Jack took the lead and suggested everyone follow him. He had a pretty good feeling where they were really supposed to be that day.

The caravansary led down Hall Street a mile and a half, through the light, and left at the curve. Marianna Jenkins drove in silence and held back every emotion that tried to muster its way through her heart and out her eyes. He was gone. It was done. Unlike her, these people knew what to do next.

In less than fifteen minutes, though it seemed like a longer drive to Marianna Jenkins, one by one the cars parked in a row at the back of the school, typically where teachers parked during the year. A few nods of hello passed between the group who had just seen each other back at the funeral home. She watched as Jack, the tallest of the group, produced a key and allowed everyone access to the back hallway. Everyone toed to the old man’s classroom door. Using a non-verbal circular motion, Jack instructed the rest to organize the desks into something of an oval—large enough for all twenty-three members to sit comfortably. Marianna Jenkins took a position she remembered from high school and adjusted accordingly into the shape.

Jack cleared his throat and eyed the group in a round again.

“So,” he said with a clap. “Who wants to go first?”

****

Jack slapped his knees and darted his eyes around the ring of classroom desks. “So. Who wants to go first?”